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Indexing It All

History and Foundations of Information Science

Edited by Michael Buckland, Jonathan Furner, and Markus Krajewski

Human Information Retrieval by Julian Warner

Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia by Joseph Michael Reagle Jr.

Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548–1929 by Markus Krajewski, translated
by Peter Krapp

Information and Intrigue: From Index Cards to Dewey Decimals to Alger Hiss by Colin B.

Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data by
Ronald E. Day
Indexing It All

The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and Data

Ronald E. Day

The MIT Press

Cambridge, Massachusetts
London, England
© 2014 Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any
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ISBN: 978-0-262-02821-9

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Dedication: Once again, in admiration and friendship

Preface ix
Acknowledgments xiii

1 Introduction 1
2 Paul Otlet: Friends and Books for Information Needs 15
3 Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems: Library
and Information Science and Citation Indexing and Analysis 35
4 Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 59
5 The Document as the Subject: Androids 89
6 Governing Expression: Social Big Data and Neoliberalism 123
7 Conclusion: The Modern Documentary Tradition and the Site and
Time of Critique 145

Notes 155
References 161
Index 169

Indexing It All: The Subject in the Age of Documentation, Information, and

Data, gives a critical epistemic-historical account of the development of
the modern documentary tradition and its mode of governmentality in
the twentieth century and now the twenty-first. In these pages I argue that
documentary indexing and indexicality play a major and increasing role
in organizing personal and social identity and value and in reorganizing
social and political life. This phenomenon has resulted in a rewriting of
personal and social psychologies of the Western tradition of the past two
hundred years, and it is altering notions of self and personhood, texts and
textuality, and personal judgment and the role of critique in thought and
politics. Today those foundations of Enlightenment thought, such as indi-
vidual natural powers, freedom from surveillance, and the rights of speech,
are routinely overrun and erased with the important aid of documentary
systems in the service of state and corporate power and profit, in both dem-
ocratic and nondemocratic states. Routinely and obsessively we use online
resources—whose algorithms and indexes both serve and profit from us
in ways that the users are largely unaware—as the way of overcoming the
physical and emotional distances that are a consequence of modernity, and
in particular capitalist modernity, where markets have become the means
and the ends for reasoning, communication, and increasingly, emotion.
These devices have become the governance structures—the “idea” or “con-
cept”—for our human manner of being (subsuming other beings in this, as
well), which increasingly subsume and subvert the former roles of personal
judgment and critique in personal and social being and politics.
In writing Indexing It All as a critical epistemic-historical account of these
events in twentieth- and twenty-first-century modernity, I intend to show
the historical continuity of documentary techniques and technologies,
x Preface

which extend through documentation, information, and data and their sci-
ences and runs through pre-computational and computational techniques
and technologies. This book is an intellectual history of the modern role of
documentary indexing—documentary social, psychological, and political
positioning—and how such has shaped and continues to shape what the
mid-twentieth-century French documentalist Suzanne Briet termed “homo
documentator” (Briet 2006)—documentary man—in the “information
age.” (I have more inclusively used “the modern documentary tradition” in
this book for the term “information age.”)
Critical works, such as this book, attempt to bear witness to some event
and to intervene in such. This book does both. We bear witness to the real-
ity, violence, stories, and told and untold truths of events and to our own
self-positioning and agency within these as best as we can reckon. We bear
witness to the idea and image of an age and society and also attempt to inter-
vene in such. By presenting the modern documentary tradition in terms of
Hegelian dialectic in this work, I attempt to intervene through analytical
and historical critique in the unfolding of the idea of an “information age”
and “information society” that extends through a modern documentary
episteme. In this book, by inversion, I give a critique of standard informa-
tion age historiographies which broadly circulate in popular culture and
even in scholarship (made up of celebration, endless optimism, works of
individual genius, and the paradoxical eternal present in the invention of
the technologically “new”). The narrative gives an account that attempts to
connect the dots between usually separate traditions and explain the state
of the documentary subject that we now find in late modern technological
We live as social creatures and creatures of habit but with radical poten-
tials. That radicalness is foundational for human beings. Though this book
is rather dark in its vision upon its topic, it claims to constitute but one
light upon the matter, and a light that is little shone.1 I hold with great
admiration and affection libraries, archives, and other so-called documen-
tary institutions and their at least three-thousand-year traditions. Without
them, their professionals, and their traditions of service and duty, civiliza-
tions would not exist, and in their absence civilizations have fallen. This is
not a minor observation or event, and I can’t stress strongly enough, espe-
cially today in the face of their corporate takeover and replacement, the
values of such public institutions. And, of course, the advent of the Internet
Preface xi

and its technologies during my lifetime has brought about a wealth and
accessibility of texts and knowledge that was unthinkable when I grew up; I
have benefited greatly and hold with admiration this practical miracle and
the work of the people and institutions that have contributed to this. But,
at the same time, what these institutions and virtual sites have held and
hold are texts of various natures, and it is in the reading of these texts, as
texts, that the powers of any individual, group, or civilization appears and
being is determined.
Documentary systems as widely deployed and accepted means, mea-
sures, and representations of beings and texts are a rather modern phenom-
enon, appearing only since the late eighteenth century. In the last century
and a half these have gained an increasing foothold in creating and mediat-
ing both documentary subjects and objects according to an epistemology
of representation, correspondence, and mutual abstraction and reduction.
This is what I mean when I refer to the modern documentary tradition. Think-
ing through this tradition as a defining concept for being, knowledge, and
governance in our modern age is what this book attempts to do.

This book wouldn’t have been possible without the resources, suggestions,
and corrections of a number of people. I would like to thank, in particular:
Karl F. MacDorman and Selma Šabanoviü for sharing their knowledge and
expertise in android and robotic sciences, and Karl for his very generous
and expert review and corrections of the chapter of this book that discusses
androids and the uncanny valley; Michael Buckland for his (as usual) exem-
plary work, this time in reading, comments, and corrections of the entire
manuscript, and in particular those sections of the book that discuss the
transition in library and information science from documentation to infor-
mation science; and of course, for introducing me to the work of Suzanne
Briet many years ago and for his always generous support and inspiration;
Lai Ma for her dissertation and for working with me, which led me to
think more carefully about Michael Buckland’s work among other things
in this book; Neal Thomas of the University of North Carolina, whose bril-
liant work informs the core elements of the chapter on social computing
and which helped me think about information needs more carefully than
before; Mary L. Gray, who invited me to Microsoft Research in New Eng-
land in order to talk about this book project and so kept this project alive
when I thought otherwise. I am very grateful to Margy Avery at MIT Press,
who made a great effort to hear my talk on the manuscript of this book and
who accepted the book for publication and who, along with Katie Persons
and Marcy Ross, to whom I am also grateful, saw it through publication. I
also very much thank Mary Bagg for her careful and insightful copyediting;
the book is considerably improved because of her. And, my thanks go to the
anonymous readers who reviewed the initial manuscript. An earlier version
of part of the chapter on citation indexing in this book appears in Blaise

Cronin and Cassidy Sugimoto’s Beyond Bibliometrics: Harnessing Multidimen-

sional Indicators of Scholarly Impact (MIT Press, 2014). The initial draft of this
book was written during a one semester sabbatical from Indiana University,
Bloomington. My thanks to Jiangmei and Dexter for giving me the time to
work on this book.
1 Introduction

This definition [of documentation as evidence] has often been countered by lin-
guists and philosophers, who are necessarily infatuated with minutia and logic.
Thanks to their analysis of the content of this idea, one can propose here a defini-
tion, which may be, at the present time, the most accurate, but is also the most
abstract, and thus, the least accessible: “any concrete or symbolic indexical sign
[indice], preserved or recorded toward the ends of representing, of reconstituting, or
of proving a physical or intellectual phenomenon. …
Still, the tools of intellectual work have deeply transformed the attitude of the
scholar, whatever may be his specialty. The factors of space and time intervene
much more than in the past. The date-book, the telephone, the microfilm reader,
the typewriter, the dictaphone, and the teletype give to intellectual work a different
rhythm. …
“Homo documentator” is born out of new conditions of research and technique
—Suzanne Briet, Qu’est-ce que la documentation?/What Is Documentation?

As I did in my earlier book, The Modern Invention of Information: Discourse,

History, and Power (Day 2001), in this book I examine information as a cul-
tural and social phenomenon, and I do so at a particular historical moment.
In that earlier book I gave a critical, conceptual history of the dominant
understanding of “information” in modernity—that is, as seemingly auto-
affective (i.e., as “facts” or what in deconstruction was called “presence”)
and an immediately useful unitary body of meaningful signs—starting
from European documentation in the beginning of the twentieth century
and reaching up until the 1990s discourse on “the virtual.” I wrote that
book as a critical intervention into the hyper-inflated discourses of “infor-
mation,” the “information age,” and the “information society” during the
dot-com era, when an inflated discourse in ordinary and media language
2 Chapter 1

about information was a primary driver in financial and housing specula-

tion, education reform, and the further erosion of an industrial working
class in the United States following the years of the U.S. presidents Reagan
and George H. W. Bush. This was the Clinton era of deregulation, financial
speculation, and adulation for a class of so-called symbolic analysts—in the
words of Robert Reich (1992), who served as President Clinton’s Secretary of
Labor—especially in the speculative financial industry and in the informa-
tion industry, which came to replace industrial production as a dominant
source for wealth in the United States.
This book, Indexing It All, continues that investigation, though it now
extrapolates, greatly expands, and contemporizes the concept of “index”
introduced in my earlier work in connection with the way the French docu-
mentalist Suzanne Briet used the term in Qu’est-ce que la documentation?
(Briet 1951), translated and published as What Is Documentation? (Briet
2006). The focus upon the documentary index (understood as a mode of
social positioning) in this present book encompasses the twentieth- and
early twenty-first-century tradition of documentation, information, and
data and their sciences (what I call “the modern documentary tradition”).
Through a critical epistemic-historical method this book examines the
notions and uses of indexicality, from documental through informational
and into data moments of a documentary “episteme.” (Here I use Michel
Foucault’s term for historical periods when central discursive and techni-
cal devices orient understanding and production, and society and culture,
as well as technological innovations, techniques, and methods in certain
directions rather than others.) The book examines the transition of indexes
from being explicit professional structures that mediate the relation of user
needs and documentary information in seeking, searching, and retriev-
ing to being implicit infrastructural devices in everyday information and
communication acts. And, given this transition, Indexing It All follows the
increasing representation of individuals and groups in the forms of docu-
ments, information, and then data.
My approach in this book, as in my earlier one, is to examine concep-
tual cases that cover the historical period of later modernity, from the early
twentieth century to the present time—beginning with documentation’s
user-document distinction, and reaching up to the mediation of this rela-
tion through the logical tools of information retrieval and social network-
ing, and then to the subsumption of both documents and users as data.
Introduction 3

Hegelian dialectic in the book provides a way of understanding the three

moments of the modern documentary tradition as a coherent tradition with
a continuum of changing (but consistent and overlapping) technologies,
techniques, and epistemic assumptions. Dialectics, I will argue, inhabits not
only the major historical moments of the modern documentary tradition,
but it does so because the sociotechnical logic of the user-documentation
relationship is fundamentally dialectical. In the era of post–World War II
information science, this starts to take the form of a cybernetic or feedback
systems orientation, which expands to being a socially wide “knowledge
management” system of governmentality, which in turn serves the larger
ends of democratic-capitalist political economies in the valorization of the
paradox of an ideologically controlled or “liberal” notion of individual free-
dom. (See, for example, Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings
(1954), a discourse on the role of cybernetic control in democracy.) In this,
subjectivity is mediated as expressive forms in information, knowledge,
and communication activities. More recently, the discourse of “data,” con-
ceived as a form of auto-affective presence or “fact,” has come to supersede
the trope of “information.”
Hegelian dialectic nicely shows the historical “progress” of modern
knowledge in the modern documentary tradition: from the first logical-
historical moment of a difference between person and text (the moment of
a relatively independent subject and object); to the second moment of rep-
resentation and the mediation of the two, through notions of “aboutness”
(i.e., information and information needs), leading to users and documents;
to the third moment, the final completion of the modern documentary tra-
dition in the “uplifting” and subsumption (Aufhebung) of both the subject
and the object to become a subjective/objective synthesis as “data.”
While some readers may immediately reject a Hegelian reading of the
modern documentary tradition, I would argue that perhaps we have not
understood strongly enough the continuity of logic and power in this tradi-
tion and its progressive and overlapping forms of science (documentation,
information science, and data science). A more cohesive analysis across a
variety of what may at first appear as disparate disciplines and cases may
offer a more coherent understanding of a modern documentary tradition.
Documentary notions of representation occur through notions of evi-
dence or “aboutness,” which transform the possibility of identity into the
empirical reality of what deconstruction termed “presence,” or what Paul
4 Chapter 1

Otlet in his works called “facts.” As in the distant past, but increasingly and
exponentially throughout the twentieth century and up until today, such
“facts” occur through the infrastructuralization of documentary techniques
and technologies not only into scientific and professional activities, but
also as mediating devices in everyday life. With increasing recursivity, scale,
and ubiquity in sociotechnical infrastructures, algorithms and indexes have
become both more opaque and more mobile, hiding the logical and psy-
chological assumptions that once were very clear in traditional top-down
and universal classification and taxonomic structures, as well as in other
professional information techniques and technologies.
Increasingly, for example, search algorithms have changed from being
obvious professional devices to being transparent or everyday sociocultural
or even physical codes through which one must pass to gain knowledge
and to become an active and mature person in society. (To use a very simple
example, most of the younger generations in modernized countries have
acquired everyday information retrieval skills that were only twenty years
ago the sole possession of librarians and other information professionals;
they have also acquired expectations of information quantity and accessi-
bility that would have been unimaginable for ordinary people even twenty
years ago.) We live in a world of codes through which we routinely con-
sciously and unconsciously pass, rather than through transcendental and
rather complicated professional devices (Deleuze 1995). These codes are not
only cognitive, but also increasingly are expressed by the body itself. What
Foucault called the “disciplinary society” is now introjected into the foun-
dations of expressions and the body; documentary codes—evidence of our
being x or having y knowledge and skills—form the unconscious and so
structure our expressions. This book gives one reading of this journey of
consciousness, not only as it is “mediated,” but even more so as it is shaped
in its very social and personal identity, through documentary tools, forms,
and infrastructures of expression and meaning.
Recently in many critical works regarding the Internet—for example, in
Tiziana Terranova’s Network Culture (2004)—there has been expressed the
hope that the Internet represents a platform for something other than dia-
lectic, for the emergence of a Deleuzian or Negrian “multitude” of singulari-
ties that can escape a dialectical logic for political economy, and with this,
also escape the priority of the notion of the subject within Western culture.
My argument in this book doesn’t disagree with this hope, but rather I
Introduction 5

suggest that new media information and data systems may not have so
quickly broken from the logical forms that characterize documentation sys-
tems or from the pressures and attractors of sociopolitical structures based
on the privilege of the subject. In contrast to much of the more hopeful lit-
erature on “new media,” I must admit that this is a somewhat darker book.

Documents and Indexes

At this point, in the way of a further introduction to the following chapters,

let us ask: What are documents and what are indexes?
The concept of the document during the twentieth century has been
conceptually, empirically, and grammatically multiple and entangled (Lund
2009). Both because it has been an important traditional definition of the
term “document” in library and information science (and before that, in
European documentation), and because it often carries the same normative
meaning in everyday discourse and dictionary definitions, we will consider
throughout this book the dominant modern sense of the term “document”
in the modern documentary tradition to be that of “evidence” (Buckland
1997). And consequently, after Buckland (1997) again, let us take it is as a
prima facie understanding that documents can be any type of ontological
substance that acts as evidence. This is not to say that evidence is what
documents (or information) are, of course (the term “document” refers to
nominal, rather than real, kinds of entities), but it is one of the most impor-
tant and normative definitions of “document” in recent and contemporary
There is, however, circularity to the notion of documents as being evi-
dence, which begs the question of what it is that documents are evidence
of. All evidence is evidence of something, and that something belongs to
orders of possible evidence for a need (from which the need is formed).
Documents as evidence are ontological entities whose evidentiary ori-
gins lie in their belonging to taxonomic or indexical regimes or to looser
discursive or conversational regimes. They are meaningful signs in rela-
tion to other signs, linguistic or otherwise, within whose difference from
one another and in relation to things and events they gain their identity
and their referentiality. From these signs—as cultural forms and in social
norms of performance—information or knowledge needs are formed and
answered. We cannot ask for what is not known, so we satisfy our needs
6 Chapter 1

by choosing among available options of what looks best to us. Needs are
formed from signs as signifiers of things that can help focus and accom-
plish tasks and desires.1
The totality of these signs may be theoretically finite or practically infi-
nite. They may exist as formal taxonomies (now often called “ontologies”
in information science) or they may exist as informal senses of difference or
distinction within linguistic grammars, discourses, and conversations. They
may exist as products of professional and other scientific classificatory or
cataloging practices (in zoology or library science, for example) or they may
be products of informal assumptions and customs (Bowker and Star 1999).
They may be formally a priori or they may be judgments expressed “on the
fly” and reinforced as cultural and social assumptions by habits of practice
(as with prejudices and other “pre-judgments”).
Indeed, even professional, a priori, taxonomies rely upon use to keep
them present and available, and so they all exist one way or another as
what Ferdinand de Saussure termed langue: hypothetical or actual fields of
potential meaningful actions through which meaningful speech acts occur.
(Speech acts also, however, continually reestablish langue through their per-
formance.) Such speech acts are treated in the modern documentary tradi-
tion as “self-evident” evidence (once again, using Derridean vocabulary, as
auto-affective “presence”). But there is nothing self-evident about evidence.
Evidence is evidence only within contexts of what may be considered to
be evidential. And while these abstract forms may be hypothetical as a set,
they are nevertheless real and established as part of a real set or langue in
their continual performance. English or ideology or a person’s knowledge
are hypothetical sets of real potentialities that are established as substan-
tive actual entities and sets of entities through their repeated actualization
in meaningful acts of expression. There isn’t any separate Platonic realm of
“ideas” apart from their enunciations, but these ideas nonetheless exist as
potentially actualized cultural forms and social norms.
The place of documents in taxonomies and discourses, as signifying
forms that are about something, means that documents are signs that have
referential relations to other signs and to forms of life. As John Seely Brown
and Paul Duguid (2000) put it, there is a “social life of information”—docu-
ments do meaningful things because they are meaningful within networks
and uses of other meaningful signs (which may be linguistic, physical,
visual, or otherwise). In their circulation in such networks and uses they
Introduction 7

both point to other signs, both in and outside of their networks of circula-
tion, and they trace their social and practical networks as a whole. They are,
in this way, what I earlier called as a certain form of quasi-objects, “informa-
tional objects”; they inform or reference something, but viewed critically,
they also inform us about how they reference, namely by tracing the living
networks and economies of signs that they circulate within (Day 2001).
At the start of Qu’est-ce que la documentation? (What Is Documentation?),
the mid-twentieth-century French librarian and documentalist Suzanne
Briet used the term indice to name documentary signs (Briet 1951; Briet
2006). In her text, the term indice may be translated into English as “sign”
(here I use indice for both the singular and plural form of the word to avoid
confusion with the plural “indices” in English). But it should be pointed
out that the word “sign” in French is signe. Indice is a particular type of sign,
namely that of being an “indexical sign.” Indexical signs both reference
a thing and gather together a universe of signification for the purpose of
that referencing. For example, back-of-the-book indexes reference impor-
tant terms within a book’s content and in so doing not only give the term
meaning in terms of the book’s content, but they also help to position
that book within a larger discursive field. The difference between a good
human-generated index of a book and a bad machine-generated index of
a book involves the ability to create an index that positions the first set of
references within the meaning and sense of the second. A term is meaning-
ful within the book only because the book is meaningful within a field of
discourse. The best indexes are not just machine-made, but are human-
made by experts that understand not only the page or the documentation
referents of the indexical terms, but also the universe of meaning and sense
that makes some of the document’s terms more important than others and
gives them certain meanings and sense. Human indexes are what machine
algorithms strive toward by the use of various syntactical and semantic
techniques and technologies.
Here I quote from the beginning pages of Suzanne Briet’s text in which
she discusses documents, evidence, and indice:
From the very beginning, Latin culture and its heritage have given to the word docu-
ment the meaning of instruction or proof. RICHELET’s dictionary, just as LITTRÉ’s,
are two French sources that bear witness to this. A contemporary bibliographer con-
cerned about clarity has put forth this brief definition: “A document is a proof in
support of a fact.”
8 Chapter 1

If one refers to the “official” definitions of the French Union of Documentation

Organizations [l’Union française des organismes de documentation], one ascertains
that the document is defined as: “all bases of materially fixed knowledge, and ca-
pable of being used for consultation, study, and proof.”
This definition has often been countered by linguists and philosophers, who are,
as they should be, infatuated with minutia and logic. Thanks to their analysis of the
content of this idea, one can propose here a definition, which may be, at the present
time, the most accurate, but is also the most abstract, and thus, the least accessible:
“any concrete or symbolic indexical sign [indice], preserved or recorded toward the
ends of representing, of reconstituting, or of proving a physical or intellectual phe-
Is a star a document? Is a pebble rolled by a torrent a document? Is a living ani-
mal a document? No. But the photographs and the catalogs of stars, the stones in a
museum of mineralogy, and the animals that are cataloged and shown in a zoo, are
In our age of multiple and accelerated broadcasts, the least event, scientific or
political, once it has been brought into public knowledge, immediately becomes
weighted down under a “veil of documents” ([to quote the philosopher] Raymond
BAYER). Let us admire the documentary fertility of a simple originary fact: for ex-
ample, an antelope of a new kind has been encountered in Africa by an explorer
who has succeeded in capturing an individual that is then brought back to Europe
for our Botanical Garden [Jardin des plantes]. A press release makes the event known
by newspaper, by radio, and by newsreels. The discovery becomes the topic of an an-
nouncement at the Academy of Sciences. A professor of the Museum discusses it in
his courses. The living animal is placed in a cage and cataloged (zoological garden).
Once it is dead, it will be stuffed and preserved (in the Museum). It is loaned to an
Exposition. It is played on a soundtrack at the cinema. Its voice is recorded on a disk.
The first monograph serves to establish part of a treatise with plates, then a special
encyclopedia (zoological), then a general encyclopedia. The works are cataloged in
a library, after having been announced at publication (publisher catalogs and Bibli-
ography of France). The documents are recopied (drawings, watercolors, paintings,
statues, photos, films, microfilms), then selected, analyzed, described, translated
(documentary productions). The documents that relate to this event are the object
of a scientific classifying (fauna) and of an ideologic [idéologique] classifying (classifi-
cation). Their ultimate conservation and utilization are determined by some general
techniques and by methods that apply to all documents—methods that are studied
in national associations and at international Congresses.

The cataloged antelope is an initial document and the other documents are second-
ary or derived. (Briet 2006, 9–11)2

In the above passage, Briet is arguing for a notion of the document as

indice that is a critical expansion of a notion of document as evidence, by
means of the addition of arguments by “linguists and philosophers” (i.e.,
Introduction 9

at her time and place of writing, likely by practitioners of structural linguis-

tics and semiotics). Documentary evidence takes place in networks of signs
that encompass people and things, the explicitness of those networks being
even more apparent to the general public in what she termed “secondary
documents” (popular and professional discourses) rather than “initial docu-
ments” (e.g., taxonomies, indexes, ontologies, etc.). Indice are socio-technical
devices that have technological and social logics enfolded within them as mean-
ingful functions for information organization and use and they give rise to and
mediate the social positioning and information and knowledge values of texts and
person as documents, information, and data. Consequently they are also signs
within, and which point to, the political economy of knowledge and being
within which a text and its referents take place. They are important points
that direct identity and action for human beings. Indice are signs that not
only reference empirical and ideational entities, but signify by condensing
and pointing toward actual and potential meaningful pasts, presents, and
futures, along which human beings develop, understand, and live. They are
entranceways and exits for desire and are representations of forms of life.
In her book, Briet (2006) formulated an example of a documentary sign,
a newly discovered antelope and its being named as such within institu-
tional and cultural structures. The animal becomes a named being by being
placed or indexed within accepted regimes of documentary cultural forms
and social norms. It becomes a type of animal, an antelope, upon its cap-
ture, housing in a zoo, and being named within taxonomic and institutional
structures, and then in its circulation in popular and professional discourses.
For Briet this social life of a typologically named entity—that is, of a
documented form—is very important. Documentation for Briet is a cultural
technique (Briet 2006; Day 2006). It is a cultural technique in two senses: a
technique of documentary management in specialized libraries and docu-
mentation centers, and a cultural technique in so far as documentation
continues modernity through helping (and for Briet, leading, through doc-
umentary “prospecting”) scientific investigations (Briet 2006). As we will
see, one importance of this cultural informatics is that documents as indice
constitute a nexus of representation that change texts and persons into
information objects and users. The documentary typology of individuals is a
distinguishing characteristic of sociocultural modernity.
According to Briet (2006), documentation is a “necessity of our time.”
Its necessity emerges from information overload in modernity and from
10 Chapter 1

the needs of scientists and engineers (as well as others) to have quick and
efficient access to the newest information in their own and neighboring
subject domains. For Briet, specialized cultures make up the culture of
modernity, but the culture of modernity is overall driven by greater needs
for “efficiency” and “dynamism,” and this includes in intellectual domains.
New techniques and technologies respond to these needs, but they also cre-
ate a “new rhythm” of “intellectual work” (Briet 2006; Day 2006).
Conceptually, Briet’s argument that documents are “cultural techniques”
and her vindication of documentation as a leading “necessity” for scientific
modernity suggests that the modern documentary tradition constitutes an
important modern episteme that defines us both through our technical and
everyday practices. This “new rhythm” of documentary modernity, which
constitutes our lives via the mediation of information and communication
technologies, is an important part of what Indexing It All traces and analyzes
through its chosen cases. The book engages questions such as: What are the
consequences of this rhythm of the modern documentary tradition and its
different moments of development for psychological senses of self, others,
and groups? What are the political consequences of this new rhythm and
its episteme? How is knowledge and agency being reshaped? With Briet’s
notion of the indice in mind, this book creates a documentary variation of
“social positioning theory” (a term used by the philosopher Rom Harré and
various of his coauthors) to ask: How do we socially and culturally posi-
tion ourselves and others by means of documentary technologies and tech-
niques? What are the social and technical roles and rules that govern the
positioning of ourselves as documentation, information, and data users and
objects? Of course, no single answer can be given to such large questions, so
this book attempts a set of readings of historical and conceptual cases and
offers these cases and their readings as tools for the reader’s consideration.
Indexing It All examines five cases in the next five chapters, followed
by a concluding chapter that looks at the problem of the sites and time of
critique. To help the reader get an overview of the book I have summarized
some of the content of the chapters below.

Chapter 2: Paul Otlet: Friends and Books for Information Needs

This chapter is an extended exegesis upon two statements, one from the
“father of European documentation,” Paul Otlet, made in 1903 on the
Introduction 11

topic of books (and more generally documents) as being instrumentally

used friends, and the other from the philosopher Martin Heidegger, made
in 1938 on the topic of libraries. The chapter contrasts their different per-
spectives on books, libraries, and friendship as reflecting historical, cultural,
and social shifts in the meaning of textuality and personhood, from a her-
meneutic (Heidegger) to an instrumental (Otlet) basis. Chapter 2 sets up the
rest of the book’s reading of a modern documentary tradition that follows
the spirit of Otlet’s sociotechnical instrumentalism.

Chapter 3: Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems:

Library and Information Science and Citation Indexing and Analysis

This chapter begins with a discussion of how the shift from documenta-
tion to information science was achieved in the discourse and practice of
the academic research field of library and information science in the late
twentieth century through a theoretical understanding of information and
information needs as concepts of “aboutness” or representation. This dis-
cussion includes analysis of key articles by the library and information sci-
ence scholar Michael Buckland. The chapter examines the understanding
of persons and texts as capable of being represented in terms of information
or “aboutness,” an understanding that transforms texts and persons into
being information and users (the latter characterized as having information
needs). This chapter then examines citation indexes as sociotechnical sys-
tems through which subjects become further transformed into documen-
tary representation or “information.”

Chapter 4: Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole

Building on the previous discussions, in this chapter I investigate the fur-

ther transformation of persons and texts into documentary representations
within broader-based indexing systems, namely social computing systems
through retrieval and social networking algorithms. The chapter looks at
persons and texts as being historically subsumed (Hegel and Marx’s Aufhe-
bung) within sociotechnical logics. In a discussion of Althusser’s concepts of
ideology and interpellation, I compare them to the computational interpo-
lation of data. The chapter then covers style and taste as some of the domi-
nant social trends that are used to index documentary subjects and objects
together within indexes of information needs and their fulfillments.
12 Chapter 1

Chapter 5: The Document as the Subject: Androids

This chapter emphasizes not the documentary becoming of the subject,

but rather the subjective becoming of the document, in attempts to build
android robots through an affective and communicational dialectic with
people. Whereas in the previous chapters I emphasized the subsumption
of human agency within information systems, in this chapter I discuss
the attempt to embody human agency within an information system that
appears like a human being. Here the term “documents” refers to sets of
codes that operate the android and to the meaningful interactions that
appear through, and then remediate our further interactions with android

Chapter 6: Governing Expression: Social Big Data and Neoliberalism

In this chapter I discuss the mutual reduction of documentary subjects

and objects to being conjoined points of data within systems of social “big
data.” I examine big data as a technique of governance, particularly through
neoliberal capitalism and the governments that serve it: subjects are tracked
within “trends” that are functions of markets, while at the same time these
markets and their trends make up the expressions of the properly cultured
and socialized subject, increasingly understood as “innovative” or “trend-
setting” agents within capital markets. Social big data indexing and analy-
sis aim toward variable and parametric representations of subjects as such
agents (or threats against capitalism) over time, and are put under surveil-
lance through these. The chapter ends with a critical discussion of what
Katherine Hayles (2012) calls “hyper” or “surface” reading, the skimming
or surveillance of texts through documentary means in order to answer
information needs. Hyper or surface reading can be understood as a mode
of information literacy and of acts of reading accomplished by skimming.

Chapter 7: Conclusion: The Modern Documentary Tradition and the Site

and Time of Critique

The conclusion poses the problem of the sites and time of critique when
people and their rights of judgment are being increasingly mediated,
Introduction 13

displaced, and replaced by modern documentary techniques, technologies,

and methods. Can there be critique in an age and society of what Suzanne
Briet called “homo documentator,” particularly when combined with the
conditions and demands of neoliberal capitalism? What are the rights of
beings in the midst of a society that so broadly measures being by docu-
mentary representation?
2 Paul Otlet: Friends and Books for Information Needs

To start our investigation in this chapter, I provide an exegesis on the rela-

tion of persons to documents through rather traditional documentary and
institutional forms in modernity: books as documents and libraries as con-
tainers for documents. Starting from two fragments from the beginning
of the twentieth century—a quote from the European documentalist Paul
Otlet and a later quote from the philosopher Martin Heidegger—this chapter
explicates two overlapping and competing traditions about the relationship
between persons and texts. With Otlet’s quote we begin to see the develop-
ment of what would, toward the end of the twentieth century, be called the
“information age.” Texts become documents with information, and persons
become users with information needs. These changes brought with them an
increasingly instrumental and technological view toward knowledge, increas-
ingly leaving behind and demoting an older hermeneutics of understanding.
Significantly, in Otlet’s text the instrumental and technological view toward
knowledge and being occurs around the trope of books as friends.1
The book-friend metaphor that Otlet reinterprets is important for several
reasons. First, because this is a very traditional trope in the Western cultural
tradition, reaching back to ancient works. Second, because Otlet’s reinter-
pretation overlaps with the important German nineteenth- and early twen-
tieth-century hermeneutic tradition (represented by Dilthey, Heidegger, and
later, Gadamer), where textual hermeneutics is read analogously with psy-
chological (or in the case of Heidegger, ontological) hermeneutics. Third,
the extension of this metaphor to libraries, understood as places of books,
characterizes libraries as places where human interpretative understanding
and self-understanding takes place—in other words, libraries become sites
for understanding (and therefore friendship) between peoples (and for indi-
viduals understanding themselves, as well).
16 Chapter 2

As we will see below, Paul Otlet, arguably the founder of European docu-
mentation, directly challenged the hermeneutic sense of the book-friend
trope by characterizing texts as friends that are consulted as informational
containers for answers to specific questions from their interrogators. For
Otlet, these book (or more generally, document) “friends” and their answers
are too numerous to count, but are technically organized and are consulted
by what we now call the “user” for the purposes of the user’s needs through
libraries of documents and the techniques and technologies for informa-
tion retrieval. In Otlet’s works we begin to see the familiar language of
documentation and library and information science in the later twentieth
century in its characterization of documents as containers of information,
which act as efficient and effective answers to user information needs.
Against Otlet’s technologized vision of the document as an instrumental
friend, we will posit Martin Heidegger’s brief criticism of modern academic
libraries as organizational forms within the instrumentalization of knowl-
edge in modern academic and research systems. Heidegger’s criticism is of
academic research libraries as documentary warehouses within large, mod-
ern, institutional systems of knowledge production. In Heidegger’s quote,
such libraries are contrasted with personal libraries as personal spaces for
human understanding—a literally more intimate relationship between
books and persons. Heidegger ironically suggests that private libraries are
no longer needed by scholars, now that scholarship has been inscribed
within larger business relationships for research.
These are brief quotes, but the exegeses performed in this chapter are
meant to read them as symptoms of larger historical problematics that
will be engaged throughout the book. As I have suggested elsewhere (Day
2001), to take Otlet or Heidegger’s positions on such questions as merely
representing their opinion or even different disciplinary fields would be
to radically reduce the social and political importance that both historical
figures attributed to their works, and to reduce the importance that their
works have achieved within intellectual history in the twentieth century.
In both their works, such quotes are metonymic parts of wholes; they speak
to their authors’ positions regarding major issues of knowledge and being
in modernity, positions that are reflected throughout each scholar’s larger
oeuvre. It is important to start this book by intensely focusing on this ques-
tion of human relationships to texts and documents in order to work out
in the other chapters the meanings of being and knowledge that occur later
in the modern documentary tradition.
Paul Otlet 17

The modern problem of the book-friend and of the library-site brings

issues of being and knowledge in documentary modernity into focus. While
the Otlet and Heidegger quotes that I will present are separated by twenty-
five years and are now roughly a century old, they still represent competing
claims for knowledge and being that are being worked out today, not only
in the forms of paper documents and libraries, but throughout our everyday
lives via online digital documents and computer mediation in their access
and retrieval. The consequences of this evolution shape our universities,
our texts, our visions of science and knowledge, our relationships to our
past and to other cultures, and our relationships to one another. Today, we
are witnessing the dominance of the modern documentary tradition that
Otlet championed and the waning of Heidegger’s hermeneutic and philo-
sophical tradition, and this evolution has its good and bad consequences
that need to be considered.

Paul Otlet and the Informational Friend

We will start with the quote from the beginning of the twentieth century,
from the European documentalist Paul Otlet. As a Comtean positivist in
the context of the cultural politics of aesthetic form that were widespread
in Europe in the early part of the twentieth century—ranging from Soviet
revolutionary art on the one hand to fascist aesthetics on the other—Otlet’s
material commitments regarding documents have explicit epistemic and
political ramifications. His understanding of documents as in-forme (con-
tent that fills or “in-forms”) contested earlier understandings of knowledge
and its material forms, and it attempted to enact a politics of systemic
knowledge use and progress based on the mediating power of information
and communication techniques and technologies.
Otlet’s 1903 quote was published as part of an article in the Bulletin of
the International Institute of Bibliography (number 8), which would later
become the International Federation for Information and Documentation,
founded by Otlet and his colleague Henri La Fontaine (see Rayward 1994).
The article’s title, “Les sciences des bibliographiques et la documentation,”
is translated by W. Boyd Rayward as “The Science of Bibliography and Doc-
umentation.” Otlet writes,
Today, there exist collections of books comprising more than two million volumes
and whose annual accessions are more than one hundred thousand volumes. They
18 Chapter 2

have had to come to grips with quite new problems arising, on the one hand, from
difficulties of storage, classification and circulation of such tremendous masses of
materials situated in the centres of large cities, and on the other hand, from new
ideas within the research community about what it should be able to gain from such
resources. Once, one read; today one refers to, checks through, skims. Vita brevis ars
longa! There is too much to read; the times are wrong; the trend is no longer slavishly
to follow the author through the maze of a personal plan which he has outlined for
himself and which, in vain, he attempts to impose on those who read him.
Works are referred to, that is to say, one turns to them to ask for a reply to very
precise, specialized questions. The reply found, one parts company, ungratefully no
doubt but certainly for a thousand good reasons, from the obliging friend who has
just given such good service. It rarely happens that an adequate reply is found in a
single book and that it is not necessary to obtain such a reply from a combination
of partial answers provided by a variety of works. Thus arises the necessity of having
available great quantities of works, as many as possible; thus, also, the obligation of
not systematically eliminating any work from book collections because little impor-
tance or value is attributed to it. Who can make a pronouncement on the usefulness
or uselessness of a document when so many interpretations of the same text are
possible, when so many former truths are recognized as wrong today, when so many
accepted facts have been modified by more recent discoveries; when, in the present
anarchy of intellectual production, so few questions have been dealt with exhaus-
tively by a single author; and when, so often, it is necessary to be content with a
half-truth or run the risk of remaining in a state of complete ignorance?
The number of works which libraries contain increases the need for documenta-
tion, just as organs develop functions. This need, in its turn, acts strongly on the
necessary enlargement of collections of books. But this process cannot be confined
to the realm of large libraries. It spreads beyond them through the diffusion of the
works themselves. More reliable, better arranged, more up-to-date books can be pro-
duced because of the improved bibliographical apparatus of these libraries. Such
books become models that, naturally, intellectual workers, who otherwise only have
access to inferior bibliographical equipment, wish to imitate and surpass. Such books
lead us to pose very clearly the problem of documentation in relation to libraries of
the second rank. (Otlet 1990, 79–80)

The article from which this quote is taken begins with the rather pecu-
liar, but traditionally recognizable, trope of speaking about books as if they
were persons—friends, to be exact. The article proceeds as a sort of sci-
ence or physiology of the book as a mentally enlarged person by additional
information, a knowledge economy that in later works Otlet many times
traced in his notion of an ecological system of knowledge, in which books
play the metonymical role of being both a material object and a generalized
documentary concept, and always a supplement to the human brain, both
of an author and collectively of civilization.
Paul Otlet 19

This emblematic passage is interesting for several reasons. First, it starts

with the problem of what has been termed “information overload.” Since
the late nineteenth century it has been claimed that information overload
has brought about the need for new information management and retrieval
technologies. As Suzanne Briet (2006) put it, these technologies then respond
and introduce a “new rhythm” to our lives. Otlet’s documentary concept of
the book-friend is, thus, part of this new rhythm imposed by the “necessity”
of new information management and retrieval technologies. Where before
we could dwell in the author’s book, now we search it/him for information.
“Vita brevis ars longa!”—we simply don’t have the time to dwell on the book
or friend as a whole and for his own sake. We look for what we need, which
corresponds to something already known in some primitive form, at least
(e.g., a term). The informational book is, thus, a document: it provides infor-
mation on something we know something about, at least enough to want to
know more about it. In other words, we are looking for, in the sense of the
modern documentary tradition, “evidence”—evidence for some question or
need that we, the user, has. Second, the passage suggests a determined and
striking instance of not simply a documentary, but a sociological and a psy-
chological shift in Western culture. The traditional trope of books as friends,
which understands both books and friends as texts for companionship, com-
munication, knowledge, and self-knowledge, now shifts in Otlet’s view to
understanding books and friends as information containers that satisfy spe-
cific questions—information needs (“One turns to them to ask for a reply
to very precise, specialized, questions”). Last, for Otlet a single book is seen
as inadequate for answering a question. A question worth asking demands
many replies, which demands many books (and other documentary types),
and so the bibliographical or documentary universe for satisfying a reader
vastly expands beyond a single document into networks of documents.
Within Otlet’s notion of the book-document as a response to user inqui-
ries, our digital present age is foreseen, with its fading traditional book
and traditional libraries in a universe of quickly expanding networks of
digital forms and documentary types, most assuming small documentary
sizes and communicational forms. For Otlet, smaller chunks of texts, taken
from larger texts, could be arranged on cards or on sheets according to his
“monographic principle” (Rayward 1994), whereby the essential “facts” of
a document themselves constituted a document. For Otlet, the universal
book (Livre universel) was a general trope for all sorts of documentary types
20 Chapter 2

(Otlet 1934). For Otlet, the notion of “the book” referred to both particular
books and what he took to be the universal book, which is a synonym for
all documentary types and information.
Both Otlet’s utilitarian fragmentation of books and his concept of the
universal book resemble the generalization and dissolution of the notion
of “friends” in our day. There may still be “best friends” for children and
adolescents, but many young people in modern countries are members of
computationally mediated social networks and have hundreds or thou-
sands of online friends. The notion of “friend” now is both fragmented
and generic, particularly in regard to documentary texts. What once may
have been a metaphor is now a social fact: the (digital) friend is no longer
like a text in terms of his or her complexity of inscriptional weavings that
require reading. He or she is a document, mediated through the availability
and computational processing of documentary fragments that correspond
to a user’s needs.
Social media is made up of evidentiary fragments that say: this is what I
am (about). In modernity, documentary aboutness gives identity. The docu-
ment represents the person as a symbolic image of being. The document
is not a textus or a weaving whose beginnings and ends are hard to dis-
cern. Nor does signification appear and then retreat in the phenomenon
of friendship and reading the friend’s actions. The documentary chunks of
texts, like the characteristics and expressions of people, are viewed as opti-
mally being distinct and quantifiable—“clear writing” or “clear expression”
as is said in the Anglo-American cultural tradition. One seeks one’s friends
as information for one’s needs and one deploys a self for the same purposes
within a general economy or market of need-based representations.
Our reading of the reversibility of the metaphor of books and friends
in Otlet’s work is not just retrospective. It is justified not only by the 1903
article, but also by the entire context of Otlet’s work in documentation
and world standardization (currency, universities, and so on). For Otlet,
the social and the documentary had a direct mapping onto each other,
the latter serving toward mutual understanding and the advancement of
knowledge. Otlet’s work was dedicated to world peace, arguing for the
reorganization of documents, cultures, and societies through larger, inter-
national, structures. Otlet’s vision of bibliography foresaw distance infor-
mation delivery for users via the delivery of printed text across television
screens (Otlet 1935). But Otlet’s politics remained largely grounded in a
Paul Otlet 21

vision of the world governed by elites like him. As limited as this vision was
for democratic participation, Otlet’s understanding of documentation and
its information argued for the fusion of social space, knowledge forms, and
information and communication technologies in creating a “world brain.”
Otlet’s quote proposes an instrumental shift in the understanding of
documents and people, of which today we are only beginning to feel the
full effects.

Martin Heidegger: The Value of Libraries

We will now turn to our second quote, this by the famous German philoso-
pher Martin Heidegger, whose approach was hermeneutic phenomenology.
The quote is found within a public lecture of 1938, translated into English
as “The Age of the World Picture” (Heidegger 1977a). In this lecture, Hei-
degger continues his critique of political and social modernity as reductive
systems upon beings and the question of being. For Heidegger, mass psy-
chology and the mass media aid this reduction by valorizing and reifying
the discourses and norms of knowledge that are communicated in what he
called in his earlier book, Being and Time, an “everyday” (Alltäglichkeit) man-
ner (Heidegger 1962). The lecture ends by presenting the history of meta-
physics in the West as a history of the increasing power and social breadth
of instrumental and reductive techne, developing into modern technolo-
gies and culminating in the sociotechnical governance systems of Soviet
communism and American commercialism. For Heidegger, both of these
political economies turn away from an ontologically authentic encounter
with the human manner of engaging being, namely in terms of the experi-
ence of time as finitude, which human Dasein (existence) experiences in its
being-with (Mitsein) others. From an experience of finitude born out of the
awareness of death through others, Dasein shows care and solicitude toward
others, and drifts in and out of moods that are based on the attunement of
Dasein to other beings (Heidegger 1962). All these attributes, for Heidegger,
follow from an ontological, rather than an ontic mode of existence; they
are philosophically accessible through a fundamental phenomenological
ontology, rather that through a psychological analysis, which in the West-
ern tradition privileges the subject and his or her will (Heidegger 1962).
In thinking through textuality and friendship in Heidegger’s work, it is
necessary to recall this priority of an ontological or fundamental way of
22 Chapter 2

being over the ontic or “everyday being” of Dasein. The primacy of Mitsein
comes to define for Heidegger both our way of being with other people, and
in his later work—shaded by an overarching concern with language that
even goes beyond that concern in Being and Time—something like Mitsein
inhabits our way of being with texts, as well. With both friends and texts,
we dwell within language as what Heidegger often called the “the house of
being,” and from this dwelling we gain both the possibilities of understand-
ing and misunderstanding both others and ourselves. Otlet was concerned
with the textual or psychological other as a source of information for the
subject’s needs (founded upon the assumption that language is a conduit
through which information is to be transmitted); in contrast, for Heidegger
language is not a conduit for information, but rather it is what binds both
the reader and the text, as well as friends, together in the possibility of
being understood. Language thus first of all reveals being—with informa-
tional correctness or incorrectness, usefulness or non-usefulness occurring
in subsequent modes of functioning only through the prior affordances of
an already shared language.
In Otlet’s works, documentary forms are for information exchange
(i.e., they are for communication through a text). Information exchange
according to this model involves the transmission of representations from
one mind to another; what M. J. Reddy (1979) termed the “conduit meta-
phor,” which was a widely enough available trope for understanding the
general function of language at the beginning of the twentieth century
that it started off Saussure’s lectures in general linguistics from1906 to 1911
(Saussure 2011). In contrast, for Heidegger, communication is grounded in
an ontological mode of being, Mitsein; a foundational relationship of com-
munity within which discourses and understanding may exist. The erasure
of this ontology in the ontic reading of Dasein (as subjectivity) and Mitsein
(as dialectics and broadly understood exchange values for informational
and communicative representations) constitutes for Heidegger one of the
culminating signs of Western metaphysics. In short, Heidegger’s project
of the Destruktion of Western metaphysics (Heidegger 1962) (influencing,
later, Derrida’s deconstruction of Western metaphysics) is precisely the
destruction of the metaphysics of presence that characterizes Otlet’s notion
of “information” and the modern documentary tradition’s notion of docu-
ments, information, and data as self-evident evidence.
Paul Otlet 23

With this general background in mind, let us at last turn to the Hei-
degger passage. It is brief, but it occupies a notable place within Heidegger’s
text, “The Age of the World Picture” (Heidegger 1977a), which began as a
public lecture on June 9, 1938, on the topic of the role of metaphysics in
producing the image of the modern world. Heidegger’s characterization of
the modern university in his lecture foreshadowed the even greater charac-
ter of the modern research university under the umbrella of “big science”
in the period after World War II, particularly in the United States, but also
in Europe. For Heidegger, modern science is characterized by theoretical
framings and methodological processes carried out by technical and tech-
nological devices under the guidance of methods, which result in objective
statements about things and events that are studied in the natural sciences
and about subjects and their behaviors in the social sciences. Humanities
scholarship, however, doesn’t know this distance. Its texts are not docu-
ments, in Otlet’s sense of being statements of “object-ive” truth about
things and events.
Heidegger writes:
The research man no longer needs a library at home. Moreover, he is constantly on
the move. He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses. He con-
tracts for commissions with publishers. The latter now determine along with him
which books must be written. (Heidegger 1977a, 125)

The proximity of a personal library where books can be marked up, that
is, dialogued with and critically interrogated, is important for Heidegger
because a book, like other textual forms, is an interweaving of significa-
tion that the reader disentangles and interprets. This engagement with the
text is so important because it is an occasion for an event of understand-
ing and self-understanding in the transformation of both the meaning of
the text (via reading) and of the person reading it. This is the basis for the
tradition of hermeneutics as reading and understanding—a tradition that
runs from medieval biblical hermeneutics through historical and social sci-
ence hermeneutics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (Gadamer
2004). Heidegger’s quote contrasts hermeneutically driven scholarship with
modern scientific research as representation through different notions of
the library. Although textual composition makes up a large part of what is
considered to be science or not, scientific texts largely follow methods of
rhetorical composition that frame the text as a reporting and a representation
of something outside of the text, implying that textual composition is a
24 Chapter 2

secondary event in the scientific process and in the establishment of sci-

entific truth. This very rhetorical framing often gives to new or previously
unscientific fields of research, as well as established ones, the value and
truth claims of being “science.”
For Heidegger (1977a), in the modern research university, texts are treated
as documents containing information, which are then usefully appropri-
ated with other documents and information toward advancing research.
The academic circulation of documents and information is often guided by
research projects that follow grants and publishing opportunities. Libraries
or other information sources are viewed as part of this apparatus of pro-
duction and reproduction. The needs of the scholarly user thus are often
defined or refined by the system of scientific production in which they are
located. As Otlet wrote, documents are consulted as to what a reader needs,
rather than as a site for the fusion of hermeneutic horizons between reader
and writer via an exploration of language and thought through the seman-
tic interweavings of the language of the text.
In the quote above, Heidegger is describing an element in not only what
later would be called “big science,” but also the modern technocratic uni-
versity that is part of such, where the scholar’s work is driven by research
agendas, publishing opportunities, and research funding sources that are
established by “science,” understood as the dominant political economy
and business of knowledge. “Science,” in this sense, is understood as for-
mally or informally collaborative and systemic research procedures and
authorship, privately and publically funded, which are project based and
epistemically grounded in empirically generated “information,” whose cur-
rent privileged form in our day is now quantifiable “data.” The contrast
between science and humanities scholarship, when it does exist today,
at least in terms of hermeneutics, is between documents as containers of
information, which are consulted for the information that they representa-
tionally contain, and texts, understood through close readings and a type
of understanding that involves both a bridging of hermeneutic horizons
and a critical and sometimes formally performative questioning of their
topics by the style of these very texts.
Smaller libraries could support the epistemic tradition that Heidegger
was working from, namely, that of Western philosophy in the continental
vein. In the medieval university, where books were hard to come by as com-
pared to the modern period, students and scholars were expected to know
Paul Otlet 25

and repeat the arguments surrounding philosophical issues. In Heidegger’s

era and still today in some corners, philosophy relied and relies upon a
relatively small historical canon of authors and their texts, viewed as exem-
plary lenses into historical traditions of concepts.
The expansion of research into the function and definition of academic
libraries during the twentieth century and especially after World War II has
radically challenged the hermeneutic model of science and scholarship.
More recently, the availability of online bibliographies and full-text retrieval
since the 1990s has made primary and secondary texts widely available in
every field, increasing the amount and importance of documentary evi-
dence in scholarly writing, both at the professional and the student level.
And at the level of undergraduate education, composition classes in the
American university for the past thirty or so years have emphasized demon-
strative composition using cited documents as evidence, rather than argu-
mentative rhetoric using cited texts for close reading and exegesis.
Heidegger’s argument about the nature of libraries in the above quote
takes place in the context of an emerging quantitative research agenda in
the social sciences and its use by the Nazi, Soviet, and the American corpo-
ratist state. However, the vision of the library as a place of information and
data storage and retrieval, a place supporting direct or indirect economic
production more fully than only scholarly research, would come during the
twentieth century to inscribe almost every type of library.

Information Infrastructures and Time

In the Otlet and Heidegger quotes above, books and libraries are both literal
and metonymical tokens for larger social and cultural contestations regard-
ing the nature of knowledge and its social origins and roles. Indeed, the
entire problematic of the local and the familiar in Heidegger’s later works
may be read as having begun with a concern with the problem of time
in modernity, which occupied his first major book, Being and Time, and
which subsequently in his later works becomes more explicitly political
and explicitly pointed as a critique of modern technology as Western meta-
physics. Heidegger’s concern for libraries and publishing systems as sites for
thinking are no less concerned with this problematic of time. In parallel,
the issue for us here is that of the text as a site for the unfolding of time
as a human event of understanding and the document as a tool within
26 Chapter 2

productionist systems—and consequently to this—the issue of information

infrastructures and the construction of time that occurs through them in
relation to being and political economy.
As has been mentioned, Suzanne Briet noted the significant role
that information and communication devices have in constructing the
“rhythms” of human life in modernity, particularly as they increase effi-
ciency. For Briet, documentation serves a forward and progressive notion
of time, characterized by efficiency in the fulfillment of tasks and needs,
which often takes the tropic form in Briet’s work of “science.” This modern
notion of progressive time and efficient temporality is folded into twenti-
eth-century documentality both in theory (i.e., in the social justification
of documentation) and in the design and use of technical systems, respec-
tively. The “coolness” of today’s images of the young urban professional
or the busy mother multitasking with mobile devices is just one recent
example. As Geof Bowker (2005) has shown in his research on geological
epistemology and classification in the nineteenth century, documentary
systems and empirical temporal forms may be enfolded in very explicit
manners, with evidence of geological time through geological layering read
according to the very archival arrangements of the records and the records
read according to geological notions of layering. (A like example is found
in Freud’s documentary notions of the mind, understood along lines of a
geological dig, which is then read as an archive.) As Otlet’s quote makes
clear, quickness and efficiency of information transfer are central concerns
for him in the use of books and other documentary forms. For Otlet, read-
ing is information transfer, which depends upon information storage and
As with all information retrieval systems (as compared with paper docu-
ment or physical shelf browsing), one has to know or be prompted with the
vocabulary of what one is looking for in advance of getting the informa-
tion. Thus, an “information need” within information retrieval requires a
pre-understanding which coordinates future understandings that are devel-
oped from it. Central for Otlet was the problem of how to organize a library
or other information infrastructure as collections and as retrieval devices
in order to serve information needs. For this, Otlet and Henri LaFontaine
invented, based on the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system,
the Universal Decimal Classification (UDC) system. Otlet also organized
l’Institut international de bibliographie, he founded the Mundaneum in
Paul Otlet 27

Brussels (which housed a massive world library), and he engaged in many

other such projects, such as planning a world bank, a world university,
and a world city (Rayward 1975). Both Otlet’s technical and organizational
structures acted as, broadly understood, pre-coordinate indexes for the
materials that they held or for materials that they referred to outside of
their domains and institutions.
What, essentially, are modern indexes? Modern indexes are lists of
vocabulary that indicate their referents in ways that most expedite the find-
ing and retrieval of those referents. Indexes must refer to items in the most
precise means possible. (Precision is characterized by the correspondence of
recall to need, but in fact, since need can often not be articulated before
search, assumptions of precision help define need in recursive movements
of a search.)
Pre-coordinate indexes are the largely explicit and “transcenden-
tal” vocabularies and their organization that are the technical means for
retrieval within classical documentary systems. With computational post-
coordinate systems, where the user forms the search by user-input search
terms (either originating from the user’s natural language or combined
from controlled vocabulary), some algorithms can mimic the precision
of pre-coordinate indexing through statistical inference from records (or
social or physical relationships) and build indexes and retrieval ranking in
that manner. In modern computational algorithms the techniques of post-
coordinate indexing tend to be more “hidden” and infrastructural for the
Both pre- and post-coordinate indexes and their logics or algorithms of
construction are created and implemented in order to facilitate ease and
efficiency in information seeking and retrieval. Akin to other modern tech-
niques and technologies, it may be said that indexes reduce the “transac-
tion costs” (in human time and effort) of searching. The trade-off is that the
searches are often done through abbreviated representations or fragments
of documentary materials, which constitute the indexes through which
search is done. As we will later discuss, social computing software enfold
normative psychological assumptions and behavioral practices within their
Information infrastructures lower transaction costs, and they do so with
increasing transparency in their use as they become more ubiquitous and
nontransparent in their construction and even presence. One could make
28 Chapter 2

this argument for any modern technical or technological infrastructure,

however. Transportation systems lower the transaction costs of movement
and effort. Sewers and clean water, and pollution control more generally,
lower the transaction costs imposed by poor health, for individuals and
society as a whole. One can view the notion of “transaction cost” finan-
cially of course, but perhaps the more important sense is when it is taken
as a generalized statement regarding expenditure, namely, human energy
expenditure, which in modernity is often factored as time.
The other side of this, though, and from a Heideggerian perspective a
much darker philosophical and social side, is that modern social infrastruc-
tures generally, and modern information infrastructures more particularly,
take a general economy of interaction and mediate it through more restric-
tive economies of production. The lowering of transaction costs depends
upon increasing efficiency, and increasing efficiency depends on repetitive
systemic and behavioral operations. Expressions are recycled back into the
technological-human system in order to improve efficiency and further
lower transaction costs. Human experiential time is recalculated as systems
notions of time, resulting in concepts of “wasting” or “saving” time, often
based on various types of expenditure and profit models and metaphors.
The need for modern infrastructure development has occurred because
of several demands: Increased population in modern cities (which them-
selves are modern infrastructures for reducing transaction costs of travel
and communication over distances) has resulted in the need for sewers,
water supply, and electrical transmission. Increased distances between peo-
ple have resulted in transportation infrastructures (which themselves can
add to the distances traveled, as we have seen in the case with the growth
of suburbs after World War II). Nationalization and internationalization
require regulation and standardization for transactions, commercial ports,
record keeping, documents, and officiating bureaucracies for mediating
different standards. Finally, the mixing of national and ethnic peoples in
modernity requires accessible universal language signs, translation skills,
and technologies for facilitating communication and understanding, and
also requires notions of fundamental human rights that are legally and
ethically respected and enforced.
Information infrastructures, as Bowker (2005) has argued, come to shape
what is understood as information or knowledge. Knowledge is shaped by
infrastructures in two senses: as the “content” of texts and as the potential
Paul Otlet 29

for action by individuals and groups. Lai Ma (Ma 2012) has suggested
that information infrastructures, such as library classification and cata-
loging systems, have shaped documentation and information types and
their theorization, as well, in the field of library and information science.
Neal Thomas (2011) has shown how social computing algorithms, such as
Google PageRank, play a central role in shaping knowledge by organizing
social space and personal identity through algorithms that, for example,
privilege popular personal or social choices and so shape the present nature
and future possibilities of information and knowledge and of communica-
tive choices.
Whether it be through pre-coordinate systems of classes and profession-
ally authorized and organized terms or through post-coordinate inputs
mediated by algorithms whose assumptions are either acknowledged or
not, information infrastructures both reveal and hide pasts, presents, and
the futures of objects and subjects, shaping both the form, and resultantly,
the “content” of knowledge and information. Such infrastructures are, in
the language of Derrida, Foucault, and others of the French poststructural-
ist era, archae-ological features of sociotechnical rationality.
Information infrastructures act indexically. They do so in several ways:
they work upon and produce reduced formulations of vocabulary from
texts and discourses; they collect, reflect, and deploy cultural forms and
social norms in assumptions and practices toward “usefully” serving the
users that use them; and they are often unseen or unacknowledged points
of presence that join together past, present, and future meaning and value
into webs of stable and useful reference. Information infrastructures con-
tain indexes, in a restricted sense of this latter term, but they are indexes
in a more general use of the term; they point to things, and they select,
condense, and redeploy their documentary referents through manipulat-
ing fragments or representations of these. Importantly, they serve as social,
cultural, and historical entranceways and exits not just for the things that
they represent and mediate, but also, like all infrastructures for human
agency and expression, by providing the means by which intentions may
be expressed in meaningful expressions and actions and by which social
hierarchies and orders are formed and reproduced. They provide the means
for cultural, social, and physical affordances, increasingly not only through
transparent manners or even non-transparent manners of symbol manipu-
lation by machines, but also through using the very fact of one’s physical
30 Chapter 2

existence as ‘input parameters’ for increasing or decreasing commercial and

state governance and personal powers.
The protests in Heidegger’s later writings against modern technology are
precisely in terms of what he saw as modernity’s appropriation of more
general economies of human ways of being into increasingly restrictive
economies of production as mediated by techniques and technologies. For
Heidegger, these techniques and technologies decrease what we are calling
“transaction costs,” but they do so by restricting, marginalizing, and his-
torically eliminating modes of human interaction and knowledge that are
more “expensive” in terms of time and understanding.
Thus friendship, in the sense that Heidegger saw it (one may recall here
that Heidegger’s first book, Being and Time, was dedicated to his teacher
Edmund Husserl “in friendship and admiration”) could be read in terms
of a general relationship of care and solicitude. In Being and Time friend-
ship is understood in terms of relationships to other human beings through
ontologically “primordial” forms of solicitude and care based on common
modes of being, particularly as human beings experience their time and
finitude as a constant concern. In contrast, the durational speeding up of
understanding and of knowledge (of both people and texts) characterizes
the modern sense of technological being, whereby human beings as Das-
ein find themselves cast out of what Heidegger analyzed in Being and Time
as more ontologically “authentic” modes of being into ontic modes (Hei-
degger 1962). Such ontic modes of being are often then conceptually reified
and methodologically quantified in social science research and by compu-
tational algorithms. Such modern beings experience time not as a quality of
their fundamental mode of existence or as their common belonging within
living (particularly human) beings, but time as a quality of modernity’s
technological productivity. By 1964, in his lecture “The End of Philosophy
and the Task of Thinking” (Heidegger 1977b), this mode of understand-
ing and knowledge is seen by Heidegger to extend even to art expressions,
which according to Heidegger are understood in terms of a cybernetic econ-
omy of communication, wherein art is said to transmit information—that
is to say, transmit the ideas that the works are said to be about or contain.
In Heidegger’s phenomenological analysis in Being and Time, “fuzzy”
psychological phenomena such as moods play a central role in one’s “attun-
ement” to other people and to the world at large. This attunement or tonal-
ity (Stimmung) comes from hearing (Hören), rather than simply listening to
Paul Otlet 31

and communicating with others. Foremost of importance is that of hearing

the alterity or radical otherness of others, to which one is most attuned
by one’s very being in common with them. Heidegger argues that moods
and other such attunements constitute more ontologically “primordial” or
authentic comportments toward self and others than the cognitive or emo-
tional ontic states that are privileged in modern psychological theory—not
the least in regard to an experience of time, since for Heidegger such attun-
ements are constituted primarily with the appearance of human senses of
time and finitude in the moods of boredom, concern, anxiety, and so forth.
Moods are not “states” that the subject has, but rather, phenomena that
have both the subjects and what they are attending to. For Heidegger, these
moods, which modern psychology takes as simply other emotional states,
show relations of persons to themselves and to one another in terms of
human experiences of time. Ontologically speaking, one doesn’t have time
either to save or to waste; one is held within the experience of time, as an
experience of concern or solicitude toward one’s self and others. Moods,
which come and go upon us, show us as products of such concern, funda-
mentally belonging within the temporality of human being.
In contrast to this understanding of moods as shifting and temporally
varying relationship to others and one’s own being, there has been an
increasing attempt in modern information systems to measure moods, from
the questionnaires of twentieth-century American quantitative sociology
and opinion surveys to more contemporary attempts to measure moods
through the collection and analysis of social big data, and correlating such
with economic and other indexes (see for example: Bollen, Goncalves,
Ruan, and Mao 2011; Bollen, Mao, and Zeng 2011). Such an appropriation
of moods follows the evaluation of attention, leisure, work, and many other
aspects of human life by quantitative measures, indexes, and algorithms,
often for linking such events to economic and financial metrics. The goal
is, of course, to transform Dasein’s solicitude, its modes of being-concerned
and the moods that are part of this, and its being as Mitsein, to social sys-
tems and economic measures of “productivity” (and consumption, in so far
as this is seen as contributing to productivity), ultimately resulting in finan-
cial extractions of profit from ontological “surplus value.” Moods and other
such events are quantified according to behavioral markers and calculated
and predicted over time.
32 Chapter 2

For Heidegger, such indexes have the effect of funneling our ontologi-
cally authentic modes of being into ontic productionist drives, following
what we could call “ideological” paths for expression. Modern psychologi-
cal measurement and their indexes for Heidegger provide the illusion of a
way of quantitatively grasping the indefiniteness of moods that take hold
of us, explaining our psychological being in terms of economies of indi-
vidual-agent causes and effects that can be represented, predicted, and psy-
chologically corrected. They seek to provide a way to manage such moods
by manipulating events that might affect such moods and to condition
such moods toward cognitive decision making. (The inescapability of these
ontological qualities, however, is insisted upon by our inability to remain
outside of them: we become anxious to do the next thing and so become
anxious about ourselves; we work and become bored; we constantly get
drawn into concerns for others even in cases where our training as medical,
legal, or other types of professionals demand that we keep clients, patients,
and so forth at an “objective” distance; and foremost, we cannot escape
for long thinking about ourselves and our actions in terms of our finitude
and our relations toward one another, in a manner that is not restricted to
instrumental relations.)
Heidegger’s insistence upon mood and other “primordial” relationships
raises the question of the modern sense of “information,” “communica-
tion,” and “knowledge”: do these terms signify the transmission of mean-
ing from an outside source (another person, for example) to a given subject,
or do they signify an affect which both the subject and the other are within
and are both expressing and expressed through? Correspondingly, under-
standing a library and reading as a place for, and an activity of, solicitude
and reflection, versus simply being a site and an activity for busyness
and production and information transfer at the service of user informa-
tion needs, raises fundamental questions about being and knowledge in

Writing, Reading, Library

There is an ethics to the tropes of books as friends and of libraries as the

place of these friends. The ethical questions occur in the rhetorical and
social deployments of these tropes, which today must foremost be heard
in the problem of the production of documents and data from texts, and
Paul Otlet 33

of users and data from persons, and through the ability of information,
communication, and knowledge systems to create and fulfill information,
communication, and knowledge needs. The critical issue, then, is to be able
to think about such needs socially, culturally, and physically, in terms of
social, cultural, and institutional norms and affordances. “Needs” do not
refer to personal needs alone, but to social and cultural needs, within which
persons find what they think they are looking for. The shift of the concepts of
texts and libraries from being sites for self-reflection and the acquisition of knowl-
edge to being sites for social and cultural consumption and production constitutes
a major and important moment in the history of information, communication,
and knowledge.
If we follow Heidegger in his general critique of modern technology as
the expression of the metaphysics of subjectivity and will, then we will
see that driving this historical shift is an epistemology of documentation—
and now, “information”—as the expression of metaphysics. This expres-
sion works through the technological mastery of otherness as sources for
information, knowledge, and an idealized rational communication. Cen-
tral to this Geist of modern metaphysics are indexes and the concept of the
indice as mediators and symbols of the creation of subjects and objects of
knowledge and expression, and the speeding up of the dialectic of informa-
tional subjects and objects in their correspondence and identity with each
other. The metaphysics of the will to power is achieved technologically
and technically, not just through the formalization and the production of
documents, per se, but through the formalization and production of enun-
ciations more generally as documents—that is, as documentary evidence or
“information.” In Marxist political theory, the formalization and produc-
tion of enunciations was given the term “ideology,” but that term seems
so broad that some avoid using it today, as it may suggest being overtly
political. But modern politics, most generally, is the relationship between
actions and organized—in language, in society, and in institutions—wills to
power. Indexes consolidate and give technical power to ideology, and ideol-
ogy shapes the characteristics and forms of indexes. Ideology and information
techniques and technologies constitute the two poles of the dialectic of modern
documentary indexicality.
The tropes of books as friends and the library as the place of these friends,
then, refer to political economies for human and textual identities, shaped
by technological and cultural mediations of “needs to be informed,” or
34 Chapter 2

simply put, “needs to know.” Indexes constitute prisms for seeing and ful-
filling these needs, giving them shape, and for changing moods and desires
into specific information needs and their fulfillments. Indexes change the
“fuzziness” of reading encounters into task-based learning systems.
As Suzanne Briet (2006) suggested, documentary modernity is shaped by
the “rhythms” of its technologies, but these technologies are, too, shaped
by the rhythms of social needs. Documentary or information needs take
place in larger political economies than simply the subject’s own desires,
since those desires are socially constructed, both in a larger, epistemic sense
and in the sense of pragmatics when we seek to find x information out of
a field of information choices. Our “friendship” and our “dwelling” with
texts are not results of empirical choices made by timeless and placeless
agents of subjective free will (though, too, we also are not simply subjects
of ideological systems).
In the next chapter I will explore the further documentary transforma-
tion of persons and texts through the historical transition from documen-
tation to information (especially in the context of library and information
science) and by examining citation indexing and analysis.
3 Representing Documents and Persons in Information
Systems: Library and Information Science and Citation
Indexing and Analysis

In this chapter, I examine the construction of subjective and objective

identities and value within scholarly citation indexing and analysis, as an
important historical and theoretical transition point between early twenti-
eth-century documentation and later social computing. In such epistemic
and historical transitions documentation and its practices are not left
behind, but rather, they are gathered up in new techniques and technolo-
gies. These “moments” of the documentary episteme thus constitute their
own “sub-epistemes,” overlapping with each other in time and space, even
as the dominance of certain techniques and technologies shift via progress
in the precision and efficiency of need definition and fulfillment. Histori-
cally, one sees that the cognitive and the social distances between indexes
and information needs that existed in a documentation tradition governed
by structural pre-coordinate indexing and classification gradually becomes
narrower in eras of large-scale, heterogeneous, “information” networks that
are composed of broader economies of language and users and of infra-
structural, post-coordinate and natural language, searching, and indexing.
I start this chapter by discussing how documents became information in
the field of library and information science, which is a small, but specific
and useful discipline for understanding this transition within a modern
documentary tradition.
As we will examine in this and the following chapter, historically and
epistemically we are moving from the classificatory and naming functions
of documentary structures to the assignment of personal and documen-
tary identity as a function and a product of sociotechnical systems. Today,
we are transitioning from a strictly documentary-informational epis-
teme to a computer-mediated communicational one, though one that
builds indexes and coordinates the construction of selves and persons
36 Chapter 3

by documentary-informational means. For better or worse, the ancient

technological means that gave birth to “deep” thought are broadly giv-
ing way in scholarship and sociality to “surface” thought, dominated by
social documentary mediation and communication networks. Even West-
ern philosophical practice, for example, as an exemplar of the first, today
seems to be increasingly positioned within situations of group practices
and explicit institutional and socially mediated understandings, and less in
single-authored canonical readings as compared to the distant and recent
past. Given the ease at which human beings revert from documentary writ-
ing to oral communication, it is not hard to see that “deep” thinking has
been a product of documentary and social structures (reaching back to
ancient times, but particularly bourgeois social and documentary structures
from the late eighteenth century on—i.e., books and their readers) that
attempted to bridge distances and time through monographic documents,
and that this technology appears in some ways to have been supplanted
once again by a return to oral communication and newer written surro-
gates of such. Humans are social animals, and their success has largely been
attributed to this characteristic via their advanced representational and
communication skills, so it should be no surprise to see the epoch of docu-
mentation—indeed, even reaching back to ancient times—to be an histori-
cal “accident” born from, in some senses limited, technological affordances
(as Plato seemed to say about writing in his Phaedrus) that served human
social and environmental needs. Historically, the shift from older docu-
mentation to “new media” may be seen through these lenses, though docu-
mentary techniques remain central for organizing the new communication
media as information producers and products, as well.

From Documents to Information

Mark Balnaves and Michele Willson in their book, A New Theory of Informa-
tion and the Internet (2011) argue that there are two types of information
retrieval traditions in modernity, what they call the “Cutter” and the “Otlet”
traditions, after the works of the nineteenth-century classification theorist
Charles Ammi Cutter, and that of Paul Otlet, the early twentieth-century
founder of European documentation whose work was discussed in the pre-
vious chapter. For Balnaves and Willson, in the Cutter tradition the concept
of information is taken as synonymous with the concept of documents in
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 37

information retrieval, namely, as referring to containers for knowledge. To

retrieve “information” is to retrieve a document (or surrogate of such in a
bibliographical record, classification code, etc.). In contrast, what Balnaves
and Willson call the Otlet tradition views information as a response to an
information need (which is sometimes seen as a cognitive deficit)—in other
words, as the product of the “transferal” of knowledge from the document
to the user. Balnaves and Willson seem to see the first tradition as firmly
rooted in the documentary and library traditions and the latter extend-
ing from information science out to cognitive science. As I argued in the
previous chapter, indexes in the Otlet tradition have more than simply a
retrieval function; they not only act as affordances and means for the ful-
fillment of “information needs,” but for the creation of such, and the cre-
ation of documentary-mediated persons and selves, as well.
Balnaves and Willson’s account is interesting and insightful, but par-
ticularly from the perspective of the discipline of library and information
science (LIS), some may take it as an incomplete account.1,2
Those in the field of LIS, whose genealogy is very much made up of this
documentary-information tradition, would immediately insert into Bal-
naves and Willson’s account, for example, the name of Nicholas Belkin and
his ASK (anomalous states of knowledge) model, which is usually associated
with a “cognitive turn” in LIS and with much of the subsequent user stud-
ies and information-seeking behavior research that has been voluminous
in LIS for the past thirty years or so. In Belkin’s ASK model, the subject or
“user” is seen as having “anomalous” states of knowledge that produce the
information need, and the fulfilling of that need is said to result in a less
cognitively “anomalous” state for the user. (In this aspect, ASK is a model
of cognitive dissonance.) With ASK information needs are seen as products
of individual cognitive lacks in two senses: in regard to the user’s needs
for becoming informed from documents or other information sources, and
in regard to what the user may not be aware of in formulating a search.
(This latter marks ASK’s claims of being an advance over document-retrieval
theory, as often associated with the Cranfield experiments of the 1960s on
improving retrieval through improved indexing.)
The language of some of Belkin’s theoretical formulations regarding ASK
(e.g., Belkin,1977), namely that information fills in and remedies anom-
alous knowledge states, might be misleading to those trained in philo-
sophical debates involving the epistemic claims of naïve empiricism and
38 Chapter 3

positivism. The “cognitive” perspective of the LIS tradition, despite its

name, is different than the positive, representational assumptions in clas-
sical cognitive science and artificial intelligence (AI), lacking its metaphysi-
cal understanding of knowledge as representational quasi-entities—what in
the philosophy of mind have been termed qualia.3 Where these two tradi-
tions do overlap, though, is in seeing information as a product of commu-
nicative activities, with cognitive changes in the subject from the reception
of a “message” from a document understood as being measurable.
The cognitive turn in LIS, like much of LIS theory and practice, has been
rather ambiguously perched between documentation and information sci-
ence perspectives. In LIS, it is unclear as to whether it is documents or it is
their contents that fulfill user information needs and so deserve to have the
name of “information.”4
That there should be more ambiguity to the clear division between the
documentation and information traditions than Balnaves and Willson
have suggested shouldn’t be surprising, since in the modern documentary
tradition as a whole it is assumed that documents of all kinds contain con-
tents or “information.” Such “epistemic contents” (Frohmann 2004) are
often said to be the thoughts of an author that are then communicated to
others. Paul Otlet’s Traité de documentation: le livre sur le livre: théorie et prac-
tique (1934) and his earlier and later works, for example, are filled with such
an epistemology and its metaphors. For Otlet, the epistemic content fills
or “in-forms” (in-forme) the material forms of documents. This container-
content metaphor for information and its often-accompanying conduit
metaphor are common throughout twentieth-century discussions of infor-
mation. Today even, folk psychology and some perspectives on cognitive
science and the philosophy of mind still remain wedded to this type of
representational model for knowledge and the mind.

Modern Documentary Structures

From a practical and materialist perspective, what is the difference between

documentation and information? From a very general perspective of mod-
ern cultural discourse, we may suggest that it is the disappearance from
view of the structures and actions of techniques and technologies that
mediate documents and users. This disappearance creates the illusion of an
immediacy of knowledge, namely, as “information.” To be “documented”
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 39

means to be the object of representation by documents, whereas to be

“informed” means to become knowledgeable by the content of informa-
tion. Documents are constructed things, whereas information in ordinary
language appears as that which informs us by it being the supposed “con-
tent” of documents and people. Successful technical/technological media-
tion supposedly brings the informational content or essence of persons and
things closer together toward successful information retrieval and subse-
quent mental information transfer.
How are users and information brought together, though? What in
the documentary process allows for this supposed transfer of information
between documents and persons? Certainly, of course, there is the mutual
inscription of information in documents and in persons as users or “need-
ers” at the level of “content” or meaning. That is, the user and the docu-
ment are brought together under common assumptions of meaningful
signs and what should (or should not) be considered to be informative.
Before this, though, from the perspective of information systems and infor-
mation seeking in classical, modernist pre-coordinated systems, at least,
there is the function of classification and metadata-naming structures. The
function of these systems is to locate the user and the document—some-
times in the case of shelf classification quite literally—next to one another.
Classification and cataloging naming structures and class relationships,
however, are not always easily arrived at. Natural language is filled with
ambiguities, and it is the function of information professionals to tame
this “wild” vocabulary. This is not simply a bibliographic problem, how-
ever. Before universal classification structures appeared across library sys-
tems in the nineteenth century, zoological taxonomies in the eighteenth
century emerged as the necessary a priori functions for the description of
natural organisms. Universal bibliographic classifications and descriptions
followed the example of zoological taxonomy and classification in the cen-
tury before them.
As I discussed in the introduction of this book, Suzanne Briet’s 1951
book, translated as What Is Documentation? (Briet 2006), gives the exam-
ple of a newly discovered antelope as a primary or initial document, from
which secondary (and presumably, tertiary, etc.) documents follow. Briet’s
example of the antelope shows the similarities between zoological and
bibliographic taxonomies. Primary documents are the products of zoo-
logical or bibliographic systems, and secondary documents from various
40 Chapter 3

discourses take up the figure of the animal, now identified as an antelope,

and weighted down under a “vestment of documents” (Briet 2006, 10).
Sylvie Fayet-Scribe (2000) has described the historical organizations in
modernity that afforded document organization and retrieval through the
adoption of universal standards. It is useful to recall in this regard that Paul
Otlet saw the adoption of technical standards as part of international coop-
eration, leading to the possibility of world peace. Otlet and his colleague
Henri LaFontaine not only founded l’Institut international de bibliographie
in 1895, but also founded in 1907 the Union of International Associations,
devoted to promoting international associations.
In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernity it was seen
as important to create international and national standards in order to join
peoples with one another, documents with one another, and people with
documents. The goal was shared knowledge, shared trade, common lan-
guages for communication, and common currencies, universities, gover-
nance, and most of all, sharable documents in all textual and nontextual
formats. It would perhaps be too much to call this a technological deter-
minism, but not too much to say that the goal was technical embedded-
ness into all aspects of social life in order to mediate social, cultural, and
physical differences. Indeed Briet, in What is Documentation?, sees docu-
mentation techniques and technologies as a leading force in helping world
development in the post–World War II period succeed.
Thus, Otlet and Briet believed that professional documentary organiza-
tions and the standardized and standardizing techniques and technologies
that came from these had an important role to play in establishing univer-
sal forms of information and knowledge, and they hoped that through this
universalization group and personal differences could be ameliorated. Mod-
ernist documentary techniques and technologies were structures for orga-
nizing documents and their textual elements, and these were composed
through the expertise of professionals and professional bodies. However,
the goal of such organizing was ultimately to serve people’s information
needs, and so both documents and users were theorized and literally orga-
nized by assumptions of what might be considered to be information or
knowledge for types of users, generally and in discipline-specific domains.
With documentary technical and technological mediation, documents
and their textual elements were given universal demarcations so that
subjective desires could be effectively and efficiently mediated through
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 41

these classifying and naming structures toward document and informa-

tion retrieval. Replacing the nineteenth century “reader” and the overall
“reader advisory” services of libraries, the “user” appeared, and the user had
to know the terminology and syntax of controlled vocabulary lists, clas-
sification structures, and other indexing devices in order to retrieve docu-
ments. Such devices represented the contents of the document; they were
“about” the contents—“information.” Only through such devices could
the user ultimately become informed by the documents and only through
such could the content and the documents themselves come to be seen as
information. Indeed, only through these could a desire or task become an
information need.
The concept of the user must be seen as a function of the use of indexical
retrieval systems (pre-coordinate or post-coordinate, technical or techno-
logical) in order to obtain information. Through such systems both informa-
tion (as that which could inform a user) and the user (as he or she “seeking”
information by which to become informed) appear as objects and subjects
of information systems. In brief, during the modern documentary tradition
“mediating” structures between subjects and objects become constructing
infrastructures for producing both subjects and objects, ultimately, as we
will later examine with social big data, turning both into conjoined data
points in parametric indexes.
Historically, though, in theoretical discourse in LIS and for its institu-
tional status, the language of “becoming informed” needed to be reconciled
with documentary systems, otherwise the Cutter and Otlet traditions and
the two elements of library science and information science in the LIS dis-
cipline would remain apart. Such a division would echo the practice and
research orientations pulling at LIS, the library and other document man-
agement traditions on one side and cognitive research into information
retrieval on the other. The language of “the user” became a sort of compro-
mise formation, as a synonym for persons on the one hand and as a general
category for information (and information system) “use” on the other. But,
the biggest rhetorical overlays between these two traditions emerged from
the ambiguities of ordinary language: the metonymic slippages among the
various meanings of the term “information.”
On the one hand, the term “information” refers to documentary forms
of all kinds (primary documents, secondary documents, different media and
mediums, etc.) and on the other hand “information” refers to the contents,
42 Chapter 3

forms, and the epistemic events that these contents and forms of documen-
tary information are supposed to lead to (i.e., “information” in the sense
of becoming informed). In order to hold together LIS as a discipline and
to hold together the documentary and the communicational paradigms
that underlie the historical shift from documents to computer-mediated
information retrieval and documentary communication, the term “infor-
mation” needs to carry a lot of semantic weight.

Michael Buckland’s “What Is a Document?” and “Information as Thing”

In contrast to understanding information as an ideational property of a

documentary physical or material form, a conceptually broader consider-
ation of information—as a product of the phenomena of informing and
becoming informed, while also one linked to documentary practices—can
be found in Michael Buckland’s well-known articles in LIS, “Information as
Thing” (1991) and “What Is a Document?” (1997). From an institutional
perspective, Buckland’s articles may be read as an attempt to reconcile the
two traditions that were dividing LIS by stressing overlaps between the
documentary nature of informative items and the informative nature of
documentary items.
In “Information as Thing” (1991), Buckland offers to disambiguate the
term “information” according to three categories: “information-as-process”
(the process of becoming informed); “information-as-knowledge” (that
which is the product of the process of becoming informed—what tradition-
ally has been referred to as the “content” of documents); and “information-
as-thing” (materials, ranging from data to documents, that are said to be
informative—that is, again, according to the modern documentary tradi-
tion, materials that are said to have informative content). All three of the
above are said to be characterized by having the properties of informative-
ness. Buckland (1991) also tells us that “information-as-thing” is impor-
tant in information management systems because, essentially, there must
be some “thing” for such systems to manipulate. And he then points to
some of the discussions that he would later present in “What Is a Docu-
ment?” (1997)—information as being evidence and information as being
any semantically signifying thing, no matter the physical form.
A syllogistic argument underlies Buckland’s “Information as Thing”:
documents inform, what informs is called “information,” and so, therefore,
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 43

documents are information. Information systems deal with physical forms

of information/documents and so involve the study of a somewhat dis-
tinct form of information from communicative studies. However, as Buck-
land repeats throughout “Information as Thing,” information is something
that we attribute to objects. Documents/information are social and cultural
products, namely, they are evidence of something that is commonly seen
to be informative.
In Buckland’s article “What Is a Document?” (1997), the notion of
“information-as-thing” is developed primarily in terms of Suzanne Briet’s
discussion of the newly discovered antelope in her book What is Documen-
tation? Buckland fills out the notion of evidence in terms of the cultural
positioning of the document in systems of signs. This concern with the
cultural positioning of the document, as that which contributes to the
informativeness of documents and thus makes them to be “information,”
continues in Buckland’s work through “What Kind of Science Can Infor-
mation Science Be?” (Buckland 2012b). In that article he clearly associates
information science with cultural and social research, rather than simply
with computer science.
Biographically, two events may be highlighted as shaping Buckland’s
“What Is a Document?”: First, he observed a collection of dead woodpeck-
ers at the University of California, Berkeley, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology
and then he reflected upon these as documentary collections. And second,
explaining this event to W. Boyd Rayward, the historian of European docu-
mentation and biographer of Paul Otlet, Buckland received from Rayward
the pages from Suzanne Briet’s 1951 book, Qu’est-ce que la documentation?,
which contain in its opening pages her now-famous argument for how a
newly discovered antelope can be a document (Buckland 2012a, personal
On the surface, and perhaps most radically for library and bibliographic
studies particularly in the early 1990s, Buckland’s insight in these articles
is that other things than traditional bibliographical forms (e.g., books,
journals) may be considered to be documents. This insight was of great
importance on the cusp of the broad emergence of digital documents and
large-scale networks, which Buckland addressed in a later article, “What
is a Digital Document?” (1998). But arguably, what is perhaps Buckland’s
deeper insight in these articles is his argument, expressed earlier by Buck-
land’s then-colleague Patrick Wilson (1983), that information is whatever
44 Chapter 3

is informing or informative. More broad in scope than the cognitive turn

in either cognitive science and AI, or in LIS, Buckland’s opening up of
“informing” and “becoming informed” to a greater material range of evi-
dential forms joined a general economy of information to material docu-
mentary types familiar in the LIS tradition. In this way, Buckland’s articles
express a rather unique compromise between earlier documentary institu-
tions and practices and the post–World War II boom in information science
research and practice. In answering the question of what is a document in
a manner that both preserved the traditional notion of the document as
physical evidence and also redefined documents as culturally and socially
informing phenomena (rather than as information-bearing forms or mate-
rials), the problem of what is information was narrowed, avoiding an overly
general range of reference for the term (e.g., “information” as a synonym
for “stimuli”) that would have voided its specificity in regard to informa-
tion systems and documentary institutions.
Following up on Buckland’s claim that consensus is required for some-
thing to be considered to be informative, Buckland’s articles suggest a his-
torically driven hermeneutic circle between the normative-professional
and ordinary-language conceptualizations of information and the events
of becoming informed. Those things and types of things that we find to be
informative are those (such as information, information systems, informa-
tion technologies, etc.) that we assume will be informative. Information is
what we assume will be informative, and what we assume will be informa-
tive is what we consider to be information.
This folding of information into what is informative, and then what
is informative into epistemic types, technologies, and events that take on
monikers of the term “information” has been explored by others as well
(see Bowker 2005). Such issues are social, cultural, political, and sometimes
economic, though they are practically mediated and made concrete by what
we now think of as information techniques and technologies. This circle of
meaning between being informed and information creates over time intuitive
understandings of what is and will likely be informative and thus will yield
knowledge. Conversely, it also closes off the past, present, and future to
other forms of becoming informed that may not be seen as information.
By presenting informing/information and documenting/documentation as
cultural, technological, and social expressions (philosophically, “nominal
entities”), rather than viewing information and documentation as natural
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 45

or in a philosophical sense “real entities,” Buckland’s work opens what

might be seen as merely “theoretical” discipline-specific considerations
to larger considerations of social, cultural, and technological production,
reproduction, and power. In short, viewed from a critical perspective, the
discipline of library and information science becomes politicized by virtue
of the very language of information.
Summarizing, we might identify here three aspects of Buckland’s analysis
in the above articles that deserve particular mention. First, Buckland’s analy-
sis challenges the ambiguous and confused grammars and conceptualiza-
tions of information in both everyday and specialized discourses. In terms of
specialized discourses his analysis problematizes theoretical models that are
based on ambiguous uses of the term “information,” which he argues is used
as a “chameleon word” not least in information research and theory and the
marketing of information professions (Buckland 2012b). Second, Buckland’s
articles stress that “information” refers to social, cultural, and technologi-
cally mediated types, rather than to natural or “real” entities (see also Frohm-
ann 2004). Third, the articles from the 1990s played a role in mediating the
historical shift from documentary systems to information systems in LIS’s
theoretical discourse and institutional politics. (Though in his 2012 article,
Buckland took a strong stand in defense of an LIS field understood as the
analysis of the social and cultural use of documents, as distinct from natural
or physical notions of the term “information” (Buckland, 2012b).)

Documents and the Creation of Information Needs

Practically, however, the transformation of documentary science to infor-

mation science had already begun many years before either the cognitive
turn in LIS was theorized or before Buckland’s analyses in the 1990s. Bel-
kin’s ASK and Buckland’s concept of “information-as-thing” were theoreti-
cal responses to problems in information systems and their use in searching
and retrieval. Moreover, the transformation of documentation to infor-
mation science was taking place through a technical transformation: the
shift from pre-coordinate to post-coordinate indexing. This shift marked
the importance of the searcher’s or user’s agency for identifying what was
“needed” and what would constitute “information.”
Humans are very adaptable, partly because they develop through
experience; most technologies are less so, because most technologies are
46 Chapter 3

developed through design, in the sense of the teleological implementation

of initial forms. As cybernetics after World War II clearly saw, usually adap-
tation occurs through the agency of the human to the designed machine
systems, since the reverse is much harder to create. Humans develop experi-
entially, and this gives them a broad range for learning and adaptation that
no machine has yet been able to duplicate as a designed agent. Accordingly,
even though post-coordinate, as compared to pre-coordinate, indexing may
be seen as an approach that gives the user more freedom for finding the
information that he or she wants, it is the transformation of the person into
a user (and moreover as a specific type of user, through the selection and
narrowing of information choices, often within tasks) that has always been
the tool of librarians, ontologists, and search engine designers for raising
relevancy scores for searches. This is true whether one is discussing library
collection development, classification and cataloging, reader advisory ser-
vices (where the librarian recommends materials to a reader), special col-
lections, recommending systems, Boolean searching, or even link-analysis
search engines, such as Google’s PageRank. The notion of a user may differ
in scale between all these, but the transformation of persons into users is an
essential part of modern information retrieval systems.
Most theories of information retrieval start from the user as an initia-
tor or “cause” of an information need. Documentary information systems
appear to satisfy an originary information need, but in reality (as can easily
been seen in any library reference situation), the choices of various infor-
mational entities produce a user’s specific information need. This is increas-
ingly true when the user is searching about a topic (i.e., doing a subject
search), rather than doing a direct reference search (what in library science
used to be called “ready reference”) or a known item search, or when, as
is especially the case with Internet searches, the set of possible documents
that are being searched through is not readily apparent or is too large to be
all present for viewing at one time. In these cases, the winnowing of a desire
to a need, of a person to a user, preferably in relation to a task or an inter-
est within a knowledge domain, is imperative from the very beginning of a
search, and this is done by the selection and representation of text (or data)
and sets of texts (or data) in relation to a priori determined sets of possible
relevance. Relevance is determined in pre-coordinate systems according to
a priori constructed knowledge domains and privileged search terms. In
post-coordinate systems relevance is determined by user input as mediated
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 47

by user-imposed logical relations (e.g., Boolean searching), by recommen-

dation systems, or by various devices for determining relevance based on
either past user behavior and user (semantic, geographical, etc.) context or
location, statistical relations between data and metadata elements, or all the
above. And above all, relevance is determined by the correct positioning of
the subject within naming structures in natural and controlled languages.
So, the key to understanding any user is that of understanding the infor-
mation system that transforms a text into information and so transforms a
person into a user that finds the information system of satisfactory use. The
mediating elements of the system are algorithms and other documentary
devices that dialectically work with sociocultural norms, such as normative
language patterns and psychological assumptions, resulting in indexes of
documentary objects and subjects.
As I will argue in the next chapter, in social computing technical algo-
rithms incorporate popular psychological assumptions about knowledge,
identity, human relationships, and value. The most important point about
all of this is that these indexes point not only to the referential elements of
what they mediate, but they also point to “the system itself” (i.e., as a socio-
technical logic) as not only being a hypothetical essence, but also a real
existence, courtesy of the system’s very usability and success at searching
and communicating through technical and technological intermediaries.
Information systems do exist as functional logics, but these logics are
not just technical, but sociotechnical. Indexes reference not just the logical
and what in philosophy is called the “intensional” elements of the system,
but the system itself as a coherent, ideological practice. And it is the deploy-
ment of this practice as a set of conceptual or ideological norms that assures
the practicality, the usability, and the success of any information and com-
munication technology system.
In fact, I would suggest that it is the forgetting of this ideological and
technical/technological dialectic in the infrastructuralization and de-pro-
fessionalization of documentary structures that underpins the transforma-
tion of documentation into information today.
As we saw in the previous chapter, from the very beginnings of mod-
ern libraries in the twentieth century the technical/technological elements
of information/knowledge organization, selection, and retrieval—that is,
becoming informed—were part and parcel of a vision of there being a “world
of knowledge.” For Otlet, the perfection of human society was achievable
48 Chapter 3

by organizing knowledge across the world. But, as Otlet saw, such organiza-
tion was only possible first by the documentary parsing and representation
of texts. Totality and representation by means of selecting and indexing is the key
to the informational dream. It is a paradoxical, and indeed, a contradictory
dream, because it promises the whole based on its fragmentation, reduc-
tion, and abstraction. Indeed, “information” in this sense is premised on a
social utopia: ultimately, it is being itself that is understood as representa-
tion. What is left out of this dream, of course, is an understanding of the
human selection and organization of forms for expression; that is, as Buck-
land (and before him, with a different emphasis, Suzanne Briet) asserts:
documentation is a cultural technique, though one that also involves the
enfolding of social norms as well as cultural forms, into these techniques
and use. The reproducibility of sociocultural norms and forms constitutes
political economy. It is precisely cultural forms, along with social norms,
in their broadest range of expression (from language to taste) that con-
temporary search engine companies, such as Google, wish to capture and
technically manipulate and (re)deploy in order to meet systems (including
economic, social, and political systems) requirements and needs.
But, before we enter more fully into a discussion of the indexicality of
contemporary social computing in the next chapter, I would like to examine
the predecessor to this in scholarly citation indexing and citation analysis.
Citation indexing and analysis are an important moment in the transition
from a strictly documentary to an informational episteme along lines of
what we see appear today, namely, social and communicative computing.
Citation indexing and analysis are a professionalized, rudimentary, and
microscopic version of the social computing algorithms that we popularly
use today. Historically, they arise out of printed citation indexes and con-
tinue to use documentary forms of representation. They constitute a bridge
between documentation and social computing. And historically, in LIS and
in the wider world of information management and its research, they were
an important transition point from document retrieval to a retrieval based
on a representational “aboutness” mediated by the social valorization of
computerized processes of indexing—that is, to an information retrieval.
With scholarly citation indexing and analysis and its extension into web-
metrics and other altmetric analyses we see a political economy of socio-
technically mediated value creation for documents and persons, which
indexes not just work that has been published, but which indexes—and
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 49

through this comes to characterize—sociological and personal forms and

identities for scholarly work. In other words, citation indexes themselves
are informational objects in the sense that they both create their referents
and trace the political economies through which they appear. By highlight-
ing the problem of a theoretical account for citation indexing and analysis,
I hope to bring the relation of citation indexing and analysis and political
economy into the open.

Citation Indexing and Citation Analysis

Modern scholarly citation analysis follows from scholarly citation index-

ing. Eugene Garfield began the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) with
what would become the Science Citation Index to which was later added
the Social Science Citation Index and the Arts and Humanities Index, as
well as several additional indexes, which today is altogether known as
the product, Web of Knowledge, owned by Thomson Reuters. Today, this
collection of scholarly citation indexes has been joined by Scopus and
Google Scholar. As can be seen by some of their names, the attempts of
such indexes have been to show scholarly communication beginning with
journals in the sciences. The attempt to do this through metrical means
forms the area of study of bibliometrics, which today has expanded into
scientometrics and other types of documentary metrics. Though citation
indexing has expanded into the humanities, the use of citation analysis in
the humanities for academic tenure and promotion evaluation has been
limited by both sociological factors (for example, the still strong role of
personal evaluation) and by relatively incomplete indexing by the major
scholarly indexes (when compared to the sciences). It should be added that
across all the disciplines, claims about the evidentiary use of citations may
be misleading, too, because of the rather common use of citations by schol-
ars to build up their own academic capital (e.g., gratuitous citation), rather
than for providing evidence in support of an argument. Conversely, leaving
out these social and cultural factors can lead to an incomplete and rational-
ized picture of citation behavior.
Some leaders in citation analysis and bibliometrics, such as Blaise Cro-
nin, have long asked why a theory of citation analysis has been so hard to
arrive at (Cronin 1984). Though the idea that a theory of such a practice is
even needed is not universal within information science discourse, the core
50 Chapter 3

questions that lead to a desire for such a theory are intriguing and telling:
What does citation indexing socially do and what does citation analysis
Starting from the latter question, one could come up with many answers
to this question based on the literature. One could say that citation analy-
sis shows: the influence of a work and of a scholar on subsequent work; it
shows the influence of a work in a discipline; it shows the citing behavior of
scientists and scholars; it shows networks of influence and co-authorship; it
shows core and more marginal subjects and authors in disciplines; it shows
research disciplines and their subdomains and their relationships to one
another; and it shows the major or minor producers of works in a discipline
and their relations as shown by citations. The claim to represent social
behavior through practices of citing seems to constitute the explanatory
basis of citation analysis and its social reason for being. Citation indexes are
core devices for supporting these claims.
Citations show these behaviors through counting and indexing docu-
mentary forms, such as books and journals, as well as by counting and
indexing documentary fragments and representations, such as author
names, titles of works, and other vocabulary taken from a document. As a
social science practice, it claims through correlational regularities to show
and predict social behaviors.
But, the social sciences have always had a peculiar relationship to what
they claim to represent. The social sciences involve a hermeneutic or inter-
pretive circle with the subjects that they are observing and describing.
Whether similar or different from the types of people that the research-
ers are, researchers cannot simply take their subjects of study as objects.
Despite the use of methods and techniques to mediate judgments, it is still
judgments—of behavior, reasons, and intentions—that are being read upon
other human beings in the choice of research, in the taxonomies used to
structure research and theory, and in the understanding of results. Such
judgments need not be attributed to simply individual researchers, but
occur through the language that is used to describe other people and their
behavior, reasons, and intentions, as well as the techniques and methods
chosen. In short, the social sciences ultimately involve subjects studying
subjects; not subjects studying objects. The criteria for “object-ive” studies
used in the physical sciences, such as asserting causal rather than correla-
tional regularities, replicable experiments, universality of explanations, and
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 51

prediction, are often inapplicable in the social sciences where the behavior
and expression of human beings make up the topics of research.
Seen from the standpoint of the physical sciences, the social sciences
remain haunted by the problem of the nature of the reality that they show:
Is it an object-ive reality or is it merely the re-presentation by scientific
methods and rhetorical form of the grammatical and/or logical properties
of the terms that frame the study? In other words, does the experiment
do anything other than to technically and methodologically operational-
ize its founding assumptions? These founding assumptions are located in
not only the contemporary and historical discourses and taxonomies of
a field of research, not only in its methods and techniques and technolo-
gies of research, but also in the folk knowledge or folk psychologies that
have often drifted into the epistemic assumptions of social science research
paradigms and agendas. Discursive and conceptual metaphorical and met-
onymical borrowings are unavoidable elements of social science discourse
and research, which are sometimes undetected because the focus of the sci-
ence is upon empirical, rather than a priori, research.
So, for example, the conduit metaphor of language, Claude Shannon’s
statistical information transfer model, and computational symbol manipu-
lation—these all have drifted into being different models for human com-
munication and thought through the trope of “information.” The critical
onus on showing the validity of these drifts cannot be found in empirical
experiments (which are inscribed in these assumptions as the framework for
their a posteriori “empirical” activities), but in a priori epistemological and
historical studies (which are usually kept outside of the framework of scien-
tific research—institutionally, methodologically, and rhetorically). At best,
empirical work can only summon us to problematic a priori assumptions.
Thus, citation analysis, like many other social science practices, remains
problematic as to what it actually shows and explains. If “showing” is strictly
meant at a mechanical level of prescription and engineering (e.g., showing
how to do technical research with better efficiency), then the question of
what it is that citation analysis socially explains is nullified, and it loses its
validity as a social science practice. If “showing” means, primarily, a social
representation, then a social theory of citation analysis is useful for both
explaining and guiding the practice toward social explanations rather than
simply bettering engineering practices. The problem of having a citation
analysis theory, then, is not a secondary consideration to the practice of
52 Chapter 3

citation analysis and the building of citation indexes that allow such analy-
sis. “Analysis” in this sense is a problem of explaining something through
a theoretical framework. Theory guides the analysis. Citation indexes and
their use in analysis are the chief technical means that afford such. The
techniques and technologies of the citation index enfold the social theory and
value of citation analysis within their algorithms and their production of indexi-
cal lists and relationships, which are then used for social and institutional
evaluations. Through this means, citation indexes show themselves to be
culturally valuable and socially useful.
The problem, then, of what it is that citations socially do is central to the
construction of citation indexes. Citation indexes index certain metadata
categories and documentary fragments and representations (author, title,
subject, publication, date, etc.) in order to provide an explanation of some-
thing; that something is often said to be social relationships in the scientific
practice. The indexes must be designed not only in order to help explain,
but also more importantly, to facilitate and further prescribe the further
indexing of persons to persons, documents to documents, and persons to
the document that each citation shows.
If citation indexes help citations show social relationships through
indexing select parts of the document, then, what is it about citations that
allow this showing to occur in the first place? In other words, is there some-
thing about citations that helps us understand citation indexes? Is there
a theory of citations that allows us to understand what it is that citation
indexes index—what they point to and coordinate—in the social sphere?
Henry Small, who worked for many years at the Institute for Scientific
Information (ISI) and who specializes in citation analysis, published a paper
in 1978 titled, “Cited Documents as Concept Symbols” (Small 1978), which
attempted to provide a citation theory that explained citation in terms of
reference. It is an important paper that can help us answer these questions.
For Small, citations are “concept symbols” not only for documents or
for fragments or representations of documents, but for their ideas. Cit-
ing Edmund Leach’s Culture and Communication: The Logic by which Sym-
bols are Connected. An Introduction to the Use of Structuralist Analysis in Social
Anthropology (Leach 1976), Small’s article argues that the citing of a text by
another text constitutes the “metaphorical” or “metonymical” transfer of
ideas between them. Starting with the claim that the notion of “symbol”
refers to a representation of the physical document referred to, as well as to
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 53

its ideas, Small extends into citation theory what he reads as Leach’s “meta-
phorical” and “metonymical” relationships (that is, in terms of the faithful-
ness by which citation reproduces the ideas from one text to another, with
“metaphorical” connoting less, and “metonymical” more, faithfulness):
The kind of relationships between the document (consisting of pages) and its sign
(consisting of author, journal, volume, page, year) is in Leach’s terminology “met-
onymic”—that is, there are physically shared characteristics. The relationship be-
tween the cited document and the concept it symbolizes, on the other hand, is
“metaphoric.” In the extreme, this means that there need not be any similarity be-
tween the document and the concept it stands for—or to put it more directly, the
perceived content of a document is independent of the document itself. This is an
overstatement of the case, because certainly in most cases the document contains
the ideas which it comes to symbolize. To the extent that it does, the relationship
between cited document and concept is also “metonymic” (for example, when a
direct quote is made from the cited document). (Small 1978, 329)

Then, in a gesture that completes the Saussurean structural analysis that

underlies his paper, Small writes,
I also follow Leach in regarding an “idea” in its written form in a scientific paper as
an imperfect “copy of an original” which resides in the mind of an individual. In
the case of “standard symbols,” the “idea” is the product of a dialogue and selection
process on the part of many individuals over a period of time. It follows that any
single actor’s utterance cannot be used to reconstruct the “standard symbol”: we
can achieve this only by aggregating many utterances. One of the hypotheses to be
explored in this paper is that a scientist carries with him a repertoire of such collec-
tive concepts and their corresponding document-symbols. These are his tools-of-
the-trade, and provide the conceptual and methodological framework for his work.
(Small 1978, 329)

Small’s observations about “metaphor” and “metonymy” in citation

practices start from the understanding that evidence needs to be evidence
about something. What that something is, allows the transfer of “ideas” to
take place between one document and another, and so allows that a cita-
tion is a “symbol.” That commonality is the “third term”—the discourse,
vocabulary, and logic (i.e., the “grammar”)—by which the two texts are
held together. That grammar is made up of the physical or material marks,
which reference one document to another within a practice of citation. But
Small, interestingly, also sees that metadata—cited names, volumes, and so
forth—are not the essence of citation reference. What is essential to cita-
tion reference is a reference to ideas. These ideas share a language and, most
faithfully, a similarity of reference and discourse.
54 Chapter 3

In other words, citations are not only symbols nor are citation indexes
only the process of technical calculations. They are manifestations of social
processes of distributing ideas. What are ideas? Ideas or concepts are words
or other symbols that are capable of being put into action by people, either
with other such symbols or in relation to the physical world, or both, as
meaningful expressions. That is, they are meaningful signs from which we
infer intentions and relationships.
Small (1987) argues that, “the ‘idea’ is the product of a dialogue and
selection process on the part of many individuals over a period of time.”
Corresponding to Saussure’s notion of langage, language (here, scholarly
discourse) is made up of enunciations from a hypothetical langue (here,
bodies of concepts or “ideas” in that discourse, which are actualized as real
entities by their repetition as enunciations—parole). Seen from a social per-
spective, citation is an act of not just attributing, but of drawing from and
contributing, to broad socio-cultural or a disciplinary toolboxes of concepts
(“tools of the trade”).
Small (1987) is here articulating a concept of knowledge as tools for
performing professional, specialized, acts. The text is the researcher’s
expression of his or her own toolbox of skills as a professional self, built
out of both larger sociocultural and professional toolboxes of ideas, meth-
ods, vocabulary, techniques, and technologies. Citation is the means for
acknowledging and supporting a researcher’s tools by means of referencing
an already published, and so public, knowledge. Citations not only keep
previously published documents from vanishing from the public record,
but they also attach conceptual attributes to a physical document. When
all is said and done, it is the reading of ideas into and out of texts that con-
stitutes the intellectual reality of the texts, which in turn is what keeps the
physical document and its bibliographic attributes in view of researchers,
rather than merely being of interest to bibliographers or others interested
in the bibliographic attributes for their own sake.
In sum, Small (1987) is claiming that what citations show is what we
might call the conceptual traces of a discipline’s political economy of
knowledge; that is, what in Marxist terms is called ideology—the rationality
or logic of ideas that is shown by the regularity and force of their expression
and deployment. The two temporal and spatial moments of such expres-
sions are that of authorial enunciations on the one hand and a potential
body of knowledge awaiting citation on the other hand. Citation analysis
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 55

occurs because these two poles continually reconstitute one another in

a metonymic, dialectical exchange in what becomes seen as patterns of
influence. But, it is also such a production of reproduction (Althusser 2001)
that allows a certain ideological form in a political economy to be traced,
although not without differences, over time.
The self can be understood as a hypothetical, but nevertheless real, tool-
box of learned skills, which forms a subset of available concepts and skills
circulating in culture and society (Harré 1989). The self is, in this sense, a
psychological or experiential index (Day 2007). Ideally, the corresponding
technological index for such would not be a top-down set of categories
for “tool selection” from the available literature, but would be tailored to
the self’s needs, as a self within certain conditions of situated speech. Such
an ideal index would include not only the formal terms for indexing and
use (e.g., title, subject, author, and abstract), but would include devices for
directing the search to a user, as he or she would be constituted as a subject
of need in a given sociocultural situation and time. That is to say, algo-
rithms would personalize search by creating technical indexes that would
reference citations to psychological experience and social positioning.
What we’ve been describing, of course, are those social computing algo-
rithms that today attempt to create personalized searching. Recommenda-
tion and recursive social algorithms make use of live social psychologies
for refining the indexing or the documentary social positioning of the self.
They “aid” the self in that positioning by helping to determine the types of
cultural and social tools that the self decides to deploy in given documen-
tary-mediated situations. Technological indexes are, then, not simply con-
venient tools for searching, but they are technical extensions of the self that
then also reinforce the development of selves according to the contents of
those indexes.
If the self is a toolbox of skills, then knowledge constitutes certain types
of expressions of skills, namely, skills of knowing (which include vocab-
ulary, concepts, modes of expression, etc.). What constitutes knowing
depends upon the set and kinds of expressive acts that are socially accepted
and seen as “knowledge.” One has knowledge only in so far as one can
perform acts of knowing. The substantive form, “knowledge,” at least in
regard to its cognitive meaning, refers to a hypothetical mental set of tools
and their expressive use, actualized in performances, certificates, and other
performative acts (Day 2007).
56 Chapter 3

Indexes are knowledge management systems in the sense that they sys-
tematically manage knowledge, both in the sense of its being understood
as potential expressions issuing from documents and from persons. As we
see with citation indexing and analysis and with their social use, algorithms
and the indexes that mediate the subject’s seeking, and the object’s mean-
ing and value, play a key role in documentary modernity for determin-
ing what can be seen as knowledge and what can be seen as the knowing
“self” and the knowledgeable “person.” (In the technical sense according
to Rom Harré (1989), that the term “self” refers to unique, hypothetical sets
of potential expressions, and the term “person” refers to summary observa-
tions of the self’s actual performances understood within cultural and social
Thus, a theory of citation, as Small puts it,
if such a theory is possible, must take account of the symbolic act of authors associat-
ing particular ideas with particular documents. The analysis has shown that when
a scientist cites, he or she is creating a link between a concept, procedure, or kind
of data, and a document or documents. In some cases the association of idea and
document is well established by uniform practice within the community (Leach’s
“standard symbol”). Recurring patterns of terminology used by citing authors when
referring to these documents show that they have become standardized in their us-
age and meaning. In other cases, the individual author (scientist) may be making
the association for the first time and the document-idea connection remains in the
realm of private symbols (Leach’s “nonce symbols”). (Small 1987, 337)

In reality, however, there are no exclusively “private symbols,” or at

least any that can be meaningful by others. Meaningful knowledge means
knowledge that is drawn out of and contributes back to to langue—social or
professional toolboxes. The personal expression of an author is informed by
this, and so, subsequently, all meaningful texts are, by definition, to vari-
ous degrees public knowledge (even in the case of diaries, autobiographies,
etc.), that is, symbols that are understandable, even by the author him or
herself at some other time or circumstance.
The critical question for a theory of citation analysis, though, is how
citations and citation indexes inform. Once again the question occurs: How
do texts and human beings become coordinated with one another as docu-
ments and users, so that a representational linkage and heritage may be
established and strike others as “true”?
If citations are seen not only as central tools in the practices of creating
“idea symbols,” but also as symbols of the political economies of citation
Representing Documents and Persons in Information Systems 57

behavior in academic and scientific research, then we may see citations

and citation indexing as constituting an important technical logic in the
sociotechnical practice of scholarly knowledge and academic and scientific
career advancement.
In traditional scholarly citation practices texts are indexed as docu-
ments according to metadata and fragments of bibliographic data. With
traditional citation indexing systems this relatively small amount of infor-
mation guides the indexing of and research into the relation of persons
and persons, documents and documents, and persons and documents, but
it leaves many questions unanswered regarding their relationships (e.g.,
influence? gratuitous citation?), which are reflected in the many questions
about the social behavior and purpose for citations that haunt the theo-
rization of citation analysis. The bare outlines of a political economy are
evident, though: Knowledge comes from scholarly documents (i.e., docu-
ments that have been included in citation indexing), it has a history that
moves “forward” and “backward” in time (influence), it has domains and
subdomains (that can be established by subject metadata and semantic
derivation from bibliometric data), it has authorship (single or multiple
authors), and so forth. This political economy reflects the technical logic
of the metadata and the algorithms that construct the scholarly citation
indexes (and, of course, the privileged categories in the bibliographic tradi-
tion that shape machine-aided citation indexing, and thus, their analyses).
Citations occur as knowledge through their position within traditions
and disciplines. They produce the reproduction of those traditions and dis-
ciplines in their very act of citation and in their being indexed and in those
indexes being used. (Although not without difference, not without “prog-
ress”; in citation the Aufhebung of dialectic moves “forward” and “back-
ward” in time, as a line of influence.) Therefore, citations are tokens of
a sociotechnical rationality wherein disciplinary subjects and objects are
formed through technical indexes, which are traces of the social reproduc-
tion of what is thought to be information or not, knowledge or not.
Citation indexes, and not just their records, contain “ideas.” Their
“ideas” are a product of a dialectic between their technical/technological
means and the ideological universe that they are mediating and reasserting
by the use of the cultural forms and the social rules of citation. Again, this
ideological universe is made up of cultural forms and social norms, which
result in reproduced practices and values, which together we call “political
58 Chapter 3

economy.” Citation indexes are not just a device for measuring, but for
reproducing, the means of production of the values that they supposedly
show. Like citations, they are not just technical, but sociotechnical; they
enfold and reproduce sociocultural systems of values and norms.
In the next chapter we will look at citation indexes on a much more
vast scale of knowledge, information, and persons than simply scholarly
4 Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole

Pre- and post-coordinate indexes, and the social techniques and the docu-
mentary and computational algorithms that help create them, are central
for not only bringing into appearance texts as documents and information,
but they also bring into appearance selves as personal identities that are
known by their digital expressions. As with Suzanne Briet’s antelope (Briet
2006), an identity as an identifiable something in modernity often appears
through a documentary process. This documentary, ontological function
may take place with or without the participation of the being or thing
involved, using a priori or a posteriori techniques or algorithms of identity
assignment, and these may be explicit or implicit in the systems within
which persons/things appear as identities. In the classic scholarly citation
systems, for example, we arrive at documentary identity and value—upon
persons and texts—by the indexing of metadata and documentary frag-
ments within political economies of value and use (through privileged bib-
liographic categories such as author, title, subject, etc.). Social computing
expands the quantitative functions and the social values of such systems
beyond academic and scholarly institutions and gives greater weight (meta-
phorically, and literally in terms of the technical functions of algorithms)
to sociological and psychological values functioning in the social networks
of the documentary items. As with Google PageRank, with its relevancy-
based link-analysis algorithm, citation indexing and analysis is introduced
into the corpus of what is searchable by the user, making the search more
contemporary, rather than simply retrospective. Here, the social becomes a
much more integrated and infrastructural component of the search, folded
within the actual algorithms and the resulting indexes, rather than staying
in the convergence of bibliographical metadata and social values for these
(Rieder 2012).1 Thus, what makes social computing social is not just the
60 Chapter 4

technical and technological software and hardware, nor even that these
are used by large groups of people, but rather, that both these components
are enfolded into one another so that social and psychological needs are
fulfilled by the machines, and the machines train the users and so reinforce
certain social and psychological mores. “Usefulness,” in the sense of ful-
filling “information needs” is the chief end of social computing, and so it
forms yet another moment in the modern documentary tradition.
Today on the Internet, through more advanced algorithms and index-
ing techniques and technologies, “texts” (understood broadly to mean
human-understood inscriptions), and persons and other beings are made
into documentary identities. Authors and other types of individuals are
asserted by names, personal qualities are asserted by a person’s “likes” and
“dislikes,” social contacts, previous searches, and other attributions; and,
human and non-humans are made into media personalities (e.g., videos
of Henri, “the existentialist cat,” making the rounds in 2012 and 2013) by
their popular indexing within documentary cultural and social economies.
Newer computer-mediated post-coordinate searching and algorithms intro-
duce a greater ability to develop time-valued and space-sensitive social and
cultural inferences. Through recursive and social algorithms historical and
social dimensions to the documentary subject’s knowledge are added.
Social computing indexes are not in any simple way either social or tech-
nical, since their sociotechnical characteristics are products of a dialectical
interaction between the algorithmic calculation of sociocultural norms, on
the one hand, and on the other, the actual practical use of social comput-
ing algorithms and indexing. Recursive and social algorithms add historical
and social dimensions into the formal and cultural mediation of documents
and persons that characterized earlier twentieth-century modern documen-
tation techniques and technologies. Documentation is not now only a “cul-
tural technique” (Briet 2006), but it is an historical and social technique
that performs the relatively “live” indexical positioning of subjects.
Recursive algorithms, which take account of past searches and combine
these with social production in order to then prompt or otherwise offer
documentary choices to the subject “anew” lead to a dialectical gathering
up or subsumption (Aufhebung: Hegel and Marx’s term) of previous tenden-
cies into new past, present, and future possibilities while excluding, margin-
alizing, and making extinct other potentialities. This is one of the bases for
the somewhat paradoxical and surprising phenomenon of the narrowing,
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 61

rather than the expanding, of resources, as well as the information needs of

persons, during Internet searching. The early popular hope of the Internet,
like Otlet’s hope with his Mundaneum, was that information technologies
would lead to social harmony. But instead, what we have seen is that they
just as often lead to greater factionalization as people’s “information needs”
are met and reinforced by recursive and socialized documentary systems.
Social computing socializes and historicizes the self into entities of per-
sonal expression, akin to the transformation of texts into documents. Here,
the mediation of persons into users and of texts into documents that began
in the epistemic-historical moment of documentation advances fully into
an informational stage, slightly foreshadowing and working alongside
the social big data reduction both of documentary subjects and objects to
become conjoined data points for possible and predictable expressions.
Subjects are represented as “about” not only their “knowledge states” but
also about their documentary histories (in search, or in any other documen-
tary regime, such as credit histories).

Computational Information Infrastructures

The transition from classic documentation metadata structures to compu-

tational information infrastructures as mediators of texts and persons can
be explained in many ways and by many technologies, but citation analysis
provides a direct historical link between document management and social
computing systems. The development of Google PageRank’s link analysis
algorithm was influenced, for example, by Eugene Garfield’s Science Cita-
tion Index along with sociometrics (Rieder 2012). More generally, social
network analysis and techniques, such as link analysis, has expanded the
scale of citation indexing beyond scholarly domains.
The effects of this transition can be seen in the creation of broader social
identities (“online identities”), as well as scholarly ones, as products of the
everyday adoption of the sociotechnology of social computing systems. In
scholarly citation analysis, markers of social value, such as the h-index, are
used within an economy of academic evaluation and value determination.
Likewise journal impact factors for journal value determination also shape
the value of scholars, though indirectly. Qualities and values are predicated
upon persons through these technical systems and personal qualities and
values are then increasingly determined in the evaluation of scholars by
62 Chapter 4

the academic system in terms of these predications. Selves are turned into
scholarly persons, and increasingly, are commoditized along lines of past
production and recognition, as determined by citation indexes working
with and being analyzed by citation analyses, which in turn are answering
questions that are important for forms of political economy. Again, the
technical/technological components are “useful” only in so far as they fold
into their algorithms social and cultural values in action, that is, in so far as
they fold in political economies.
The algorithms don’t simply run alongside ideology, but rather, they
are designed into ideology, which is to say also, conversely, that ideology
is enfolded into the logic and elements of calculative devices. Algorithms
and indexes aren’t just coincidental agencements or parts of sociotechnical
assemblages, but rather these assemblages develop within parts of political
economy, whether through the sponsorship or action of research programs,
personal sponsors, corporations, state institutions, venture capital, or sim-
ply market directives, so as to be expressions that are useful to some parts
of these founding and directing institutions, as well as to personal users.
Social computing takes the modern documentary mediation and cre-
ation of sociotechnical dialectics further in two ways: the recursive (Thomas
2012) historicization and the broader socialization of information needs,
and the a posteriori empiricalization of persons and texts as sociocultural
historical information through these. Through recursive software and social
network analyses, as well as through more traditional documentary devices
and affordances, persons and texts become historically and socially indexed
and profiled in new and sometimes peculiar manners. Thanks to the wide-
spread and infrastructural presence of these documentary tools, what began
as analogical documentary characterizations of historical and social rela-
tionships (e.g., credit “histories” and Facebook “friends”) has gradually
come to replace the traditional senses of such relationships. And, as is often
the case, what have been left behind with the triumph of the modern docu-
mentary tradition are the time-consuming, interpretative, and judgmental
elements of human relationships to other human beings, one’s self, other
beings as a whole, and texts.
As Briet wrote in 1951 (Briet 2006), documentation is a cultural special-
ization that uses information and communication techniques and tech-
nologies to serve and produce new social and cultural rhythms. For Briet,
these rhythms follow the score of modernity as a progressive history of the
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 63

expansion of scale for technically and technologically mediated documen-

tary understandings. Since Briet’s time, that rhythm has both sped up even
more and has covered nearly the entirety of life, from our social to our psy-
chological lives to our ability to perform research and work and to be enter-
tained. Indeed, it isn’t just “science” that modern documentary techniques
and technologies and documentalists serve and lead, but rather, ideology
and political economy, as these are embedded in both professional and
everyday use.2 Technologies and political economy reproduce one another
through design—the design of future machines to serve human beings and
human beings being shaped to work with new technologies. Modern infor-
mation and communication technologies are, above all, devices and systems
that function through both sociocultural and technical logics.
In contrast to the past orientation of pre-coordinate indexing (say in
regard to indexed vocabulary), current information algorithms and infra-
structures are more socially present and even future oriented. They gather
together past searches in order to subsume them within present searches
and shape future searches (which then mediate the past), and this historical
mediation is also remediated by a user’s social networks and larger trends.
Personal needs and the needs of others, concrete documentational, infor-
mational, and data materials and ideational realms of language, expecta-
tions, and normative meanings (ideology) form the general system of past,
present, and future expressions that information and communication sys-
tems are built to serve and evolve. They are practical systems, in the sense
that they serve needs, and they are idealized systems in the sense that they
reproduce those needs in progressively historicized and socialized forms
(and so, too, reinforce their own sociotechnical designs).
The informational character of social computing may be understood
through Hegelian dialectics. Dialectics, in the sense that we are using the
term here, refers to the rational—the “meaningful”—emergence of sub-
jects and objects over time through a systemic logic according to a gov-
erning concept of being. In dialectics, a concept of being as well as a logic
for its unfolding are essential to the emergence of the subjects and objects
involved. But a concept of being and its logic also gradually comes to an
existent appearance through the phenomena of subjects and objects in their
historical relationships, and through becoming who and what they are
as meaningful and valued entities according to the system in which they
are inscribed and expressing. The concept is enfolded within social and
64 Chapter 4

personal needs, and so appears over time as the essence of those needs
themselves through expressed personal desires performed through a cul-
ture’s expressive forms and social norms. Persons expressing themselves as
the spirit of their age give the concept of an age a reality.
The sociocultural system mediates the purely logical forms of techniques
and technologies in order to give them the quality of being useful. And, on
the other hand, technical and technological devices are designed as being
useful by enfolding in their functional expressiveness the social and cultural
assumptions that will make them meaningful and valuable for the human
environment in which they are located.
What we search for is what something or some persons are said to be
about, often in contemporary culture and psychology then positioning our-
selves in regard to them, either for or against, either in curiosity or repul-
sion, liking, disliking, recommending, or simply being disinterested in and
disregarding them. Informationally, that is, in modern documentary psy-
chology, I am for-others as they are for-me, only in so far as I am and they
are. Insofar as my needs come from my own social positioning as a person,
then it is the “they” that gives to me the characteristics of my I, but an “I”
that is always a “me” just as the others are a “they.” Through documen-
tary mediation, my “I” is a me that is mediated by or given as data. The
documentary given (the “information” or the “data”) is, in the Lacanian
sense, moi—it is me (Day 2013); it is my appearance through the docu-
mentary given—the melding of dominant personal and social psychology
and technologies of documentary organization and retrieval. And for the
information system, I am less the self and more the “me”—a “me” among
other moi. Through the Internet we come to experience not only others,
but types of our own individual selves, as objects of our contemplation as
never before in history. And conversely, the Internet may become a forum
for masquerade, social positioning, and the types of ironic literary and
visual tropes that work against this, but largely without managing to escape
the psychologies and political economies governing popular culture. While
local phenomenon may escape this rule, as one scales up, as local political
tensions become “viral” for example, and as mediating documentary algo-
rithms and indexes further position textual and personal subjects, the force
of normative cultural psychology and politics often comes to rein in the
more “radical” moments of personal and social transformation.
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 65

Instrumental rationality—usefulness—positions others and one’s self

correctly in what is understood to be the present and only political econ-
omy. Pragmatically viewed, such objectivity is seen as both natural and
necessary. Politically, socially, and morally, one must see one’s self as being
just one being among many in order to be judged objectively. Through this
objectivity, self-consciousness becomes mature, as the self positions itself
correctly within the normative categories of personhood.
In a documentary society, from the viewpoint of all the others, I am just
another. This is a lesson that we most have learned, both analogically and
experientially, from the worldwide growth of the Internet and from neo-
liberalism, and it is why the existential self that emerged from out of the
Romantic reaction to industrialism now has become increasingly fragile. I
am another by such a name (e.g., “Ron Day” or another proper name), with
the same mortal conditions as the other, thrown to compete for survival
with the others in the arena of “the market.” I appear on various docu-
mentary markets, in ways that I can try to manage according to the wishes
that I may have for my public appearance. The photograph of me on an
Internet site is different from an old photograph kept in a drawer. The for-
mer context presents more of a problem of my self-positioning in a public
documentary space than the latter.
Yet, along with the others, and along with algorithms and indexes, I
am also one who is reading and interpreting such. The splitting and the
dialectic of the subject remains, but the subject is now burdened more with
its objectivity; not just as a moment in the subject’s consciousness, but as
the subsuming logic that increasingly drives the subject’s consciousness of
itself and others, courtesy of documentary evidence. While in Heidegger’s
Being and Time (published in 1927) the finitude of the other is the condi-
tion by which one finds a commonality with the others, resulting in solici-
tude and care—as well as anxiety in regard to one’s own finitude—the same
sympathy in neoliberalism leads to feelings of competition, aloneness,
resentment, and failure. And on the Internet, as with all media person-
alities, many people never die, but instead maintain an afterlife as a docu-
ment. The nature of the awareness or feeling of being with others—that
is, how Dasein and Mitsein, as modalities of being are ontically expressed and
experienced—depends upon the political economy within which the sub-
ject appears. Though the subject may find and extend care and solicitude
through social networks, the documentary push of the Internet in this day
66 Chapter 4

often moves such interactions toward cursory “likes” or “dislikes,” thumbs

up or thumbs down, before moving onto the next documentary task.
We want to know about something or someone, some object or some per-
son, and the index provides a means to do this through the organization
and representation of documents. Wanting to know about, in the docu-
mentary sense, is wanting to understand something or someone within the
context of a system of knowledge, that is, to know it or them as evidence
within some taxonomy or discourse we are working with. This something
or someone appears through its being a sign within a system of reference.
It is pointed to (extensional reference) through an indice, but this indexi-
cal sign, when brought under critical analysis, also signifies the system or
discourse through which it appears (what in philosophy is termed “inten-
sional” reference). Informational objects inform us as to their extensional
referent and to their systems of representation.
This individual (“x”) is a dog, and dogs belong to families of animals (in a
taxonomical sense) and to families of people (in a sense of dog ownership or
companionship). There are working dogs, cuddly dogs, and there are angry
dogs. This dog is a loving dog or this dog is an angry dog. (This woman/man
will make a good mate, this woman/man will not, etc.) The indexical sign
points to an extensional referent, but this referent is a sign in as much as it
belongs to categories of meaning and environments of sense. We learn the
categories when we learn the words, but we understand their meaning bet-
ter (or only) when we learn their sense, as well. (Just as a number becomes
meaningful to us only by understanding it within a mathematical syntax
or seeing it in some practical use.) All signs that have meaning and sense
are indexical, which is to say that all humanly affected signs are indexically
placed, amid constellations of other signed things (whether they be empiri-
cal or fantastic). Phenomenologically, the thing or being appears to us from
out of documentary relationships that are learned through experience. All
identities, including our own as existents, are signs that are meaningful
only through other signs (and so must be developmentally or experientially
learned) (Day 2007).
The problem with documentary categories is that it may appear that
experience or reading and interpretation, understanding and judgment,
are no longer necessary, that what is given by the information or data is a
“fact”: that the constellation of references is closed, that the text is closed
and is a document.
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 67

However, the modern sense of the term “information,” as a family of

discourses of representation, remains, despite its current prominence, a gal-
axy amid other galaxies of knowledge. It is given, historically, socially, and
culturally, through a political economy that manifests itself in the intersec-
tion of techne and language, namely through that sociotechnical concept of
“information technology.” Such a concept, as I have been stressing through-
out this book as throughout my other works, has values and deployments
that involve symbolically unfolding futures as well as rereadings of the past
and the present in terms of its dominant episteme. Thus, if we still accept
the charge of critique, it is politically necessary and responsible to exam-
ine the logics and rationality by which the historical and social unfolding
of concepts and technologies of information and knowledge occur. These
unfold and enroll within a systemic logic; this logic is not exclusionary,
however, but rather maintains its difference within a universe filled with
other values for knowledge and identity. Its dominance or not follows an
historical course that is a play of forces of power; those forces index the
potentialities (both the determinate and the generative powers) of the pres-
ent and future of this episteme, and of the potential powers of its agents
and concepts.
Within a certain philosophical context, we may briefly pose the issue in
the following manner: In Lockean empiricism and subsequent empirical
positivism, objects are viewed as having an integral self- or “auto-affective”
presence outside of cognition and have the ability to affect consciousness
through such presence. In contrast, the Kantian critique of empiricism
viewed objects as being structured as known things by categories of the
understanding. Subsequently, however, Hegelian dialectics, emerging from
German speculative idealism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, viewed the construction of categories of the understanding (start-
ing not the least from consciousness or the subject itself in its self-under-
standing), as emergent out of an experience with others that lie both within
and outside of the subject’s consciousness. Attempting to advance beyond
Kant’s critiques through a phenomenological account of consciousness’s
experience in the world, consciousness was historicized as the subject, but
in this, it was also made to be an explicit social, cultural, and in sum, politi-
cal, subject; that is, a subject of a governing and historically realized politi-
cal idea or concept. The subject was not simply historical, but rather, its
historical quality was that of an expression of the spirit of a governing “age”
68 Chapter 4

or “society.” And since all governing concepts are realized only by their
success and usefulness, this is to say that the subject emerges as a product
of political economy and the regulation and repressions or expressions of
potential and possible forces of power.
The historicization of Kant’s epistemology through a dialectical account
of experientially formed consciousness can be found in Hegel’s Phenomenol-
ogy of Spirit (Phänomenologie des Geistes 1807), where consciousness becomes
self-conscious through viewing itself through that which it initially appears
as not being. According to a “closed” dialectic or “right” Hegelianism, sub-
jects discover what they are through otherness and, most extremely, through
the alienation of being treated as objects (as in Hegel’s famous master-slave
dialectic in the Phenomemology). A more “open” dialectic or sometimes “left”
Hegelianism stresses the force of the dialectic as historical becoming, rather
than stressing subjects and objects as foundational ontological positions.
Here, subjects and objects, subjectivity and objectivity (including persons
understood as objects), are moments in the becoming of personal self-con-
sciousness within and as part of the historical unfolding of being as a certain
historical and sociocultural idea or concept of being. Here, consciousness
or the subject is but a moment in the development of self-consciousness
as a certain type of subject within a certain concept and logic of being. The
subject is subjected to the governance of an essential idea or concept, which
guides personal and social development and defines an age.
On the one hand, from the perspective of the Hegelian universal, a con-
cept of being historically unfolds and the subject comes to understand itself
though the notion and logic of that concept. (For example, the historical
logic that concerns us in this book, of course, is that of the subject knowing
itself through and as documentary evidence—in late modernism, under-
stood by the term “information.”) On the other hand, from the perspec-
tive of the Hegelian “particular,” Geist (“spirit” or “mind” in English) is the
personal desire that is historically worked out through a relationship to the
other. In this working out of desire the self expresses itself through actions
and comes to be seen and comes to see itself through these actions as both
self and person, subject and other, hypothetical set of powers and recog-
nized sets of powers. As participating in the spirit of his or her time, the
particular individual develops and acts within historically specific cultural
forms and social norms, which in turn fit within larger ideologies and tradi-
tions of beliefs (what one could call “metaphysical traditions”).
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 69

Within an historical concept and its episteme, a concept of being is actu-

alized in the actions of people acting within the spirit of their age. The role
of ideology is to unconsciously govern these actions through the regula-
tion of cultural forms and social norms within moral and political econo-
mies so as to allow the spirit of the age its greatest expression possible.
Through ideology, as through physical force, discipline, and punishment
(the “repressive state apparatus,” see Althusser 2001), other potentiali-
ties—past, present, and future—are marginalized, canceled, and subsumed
within the dominant vision and contradictions, and “minority” or “mar-
ginal” persons, positions, and ideas are subsumed, dismissed, or otherwise
qualified. “Mediation” is understood as the term for the management of
beings according to the prevailing dominant ideas or concepts of technolo-
gies, logic, and thought of being. Within an historicist understanding, such
mediation might be seen as “progress.”
Hegelian dialectics very well models the relationship of self to identity
on the Internet today. The cultural categories are those that are informative
and communicative—informative and communicative language, for exam-
ple. The social norms are information and communication as clear and
distinct statements. And the historicity and logic through which documen-
tary being appears is that of the documentary/information age as medi-
ated by computational technologies using data processing (and sometimes
older, documentary tools and techniques) toward document formation and
management, with language being understood as an instrumental tool for
information transfer and communication. Seen globally, the appearance
of personal identities and documentary identities in social computing are
moments in the working out of the cultural psychologies and sociologies
that are embedded in these systems in the form of algorithms of need
(Thomas 2012). These identities are psychological and sociological “facts,”
indicative of the empirical claims of governing political economies.
The expansion of the logic of citation, from the academic to the more
general social sphere, has been accomplished by search and social network
algorithms and indexes, which give coherence to vast and arguably frag-
mented social worlds through a logic of information needs. Needs are fulfilled
through algorithms and indexes that construct and link information accord-
ing to needs that are predicated as attributes of subjects. Such subjects are less
that of being selves of hypothetical potentialities, and more persons of logi-
cal possibilities (and so, as conforming to such logical norms of expression,
70 Chapter 4

they are sometimes seen as objects). As the dialectic historically develops or

“matures,” such objectivized “personhood” (as the self-conscious concept
of being) is introjected into selves at earlier and earlier developmental ages.
The curtailment or re-inscriptions of the subject’s fantasy to the economy of
online systems is a function of not just the personal time and labor, but also
the social time and labor, invested through those systems.

Sociocultural Indexes and Computational Algorithms

Ostensibly, with “post-documental” information we do not start with the

organization of documents, but with the organization of a person’s needs,
as identified and organized by user vocabulary and indexed by technical
algorithms based on assumed social and semantic relationships and pref-
erences. The semantic web, recommendation systems, Google PageRank,
and so forth, are based on the assumption that individual queries are,
essentially, social queries, and so can be semantically or socially derived
and positioned. From this, persons are connected to named documents
and other identities in explicitly or implicitly presented networks. Here
we arrive at a certain documental / post-documental historical moment
of the modern documentary tradition, where and when documents and
other informational substances are no longer largely delivered through
explicit professional organizations and standards, but rather are assembled
through implicit technical and assumed social codes. These include user
terms; network, physical, and social locations and relationships; seman-
tic relationships; and search histories, among others, that bear with them
what was once known simply as “the user,” who now comes online to be
reconstructed in the figure of a person, as an intentional and responsible
agent, increasingly through a documentary form other than the written
text (photographs, avatars, documentary traces, and increasingly, biometric
This figure (figura) in itself, as a documentary presence or documentary
“typology” (Auerbach 1957), is taken as signifying or indexing not only its
predicates and other entity relations from these in social and documenta-
tion networks, but also as I will discuss in later chapters, through these
networks of big data in which they are embedded, such figura foreshadow
future activities, future figures for the person or the text within the domain
of what is, really, automated documentary exegesis.3
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 71

What we think to be personal intentions—our “needs”—are socially

structured through implicit or explicit social computing environments as
information and communication needs. We navigate through information
and communication technologies, which treat and shape our needs as doc-
umented sociocultural identities, tastes, and styles.
What, then, are the mechanisms of power for these new sociocultural
indexes? There are, of course, the computational algorithms of social
computing technologies. But these must work in dialectical relation with
cultural and social norms, from user vocabulary to the user’s choices and
grammars of vocabulary and social associations. Between the computational
algorithms and their social psychological assumptions on the one hand,
and the ideological mechanisms that positions persons as social subjects,
on the other, there emerges the new type of “user,” a product of documen-
tary meaning, identity, and intention. And increasingly today this user is
co-positioned with documents and documentary fragments as themselves
being documentary units for further reuse. Documentary fragments, here,
are like the fragments of medieval religious cosmology: indexical point-
ings to other representations of persons in the logical space of documents
(Walsh 2012; Drucker 2013).4
The bridge, then, between the documentation and the information
moments of the modern documentary tradition is the concept of need, as
needs are shaped by technical practices and their particular modes of posit-
ing knowledge and persons as evidence or aboutness (i.e., “information”). A
critical theory of this documentary/”information” tradition would have to
focus not only upon mediating technologies, but also upon their recursive
and historically accumulative functions in the building up of sociocultural

Indexes of Social Positioning: Style, Taste, and Ideology

Computer-mediated indexes are sociocultural indexes. They construct

indexes of sociocultural phenomena through language analyses and
through network, physical, and social location analyses, and in recursive
systems they then reinvest those indexes into mediating further searching.
The result is a dynamic system of self-positioning and social reposition-
ing, where, as Neal Thomas has written, a “dynamic resembling a flock of
birds” occurs, for which the movement of each redirects the whole and the
72 Chapter 4

whole redirects each (Thomas 2012): what is popularly called a “swarm”

or “crowd” dynamic. What newer, internet, information systems represent
and re-index back into the search and back into language more generally
are not sociocultural forms determined by a professional body (as with
older documentary indexing), but rather, the system’s representations of
the actions and identities of documentary subjects and objects in time as
evidence of their “aboutness.”
However, what are often not apparent to ordinary users in such systems
are the algorithmic infrastructures that mediate the transitions from singu-
larities to individuals—from, for example, my searching on Amazon to its
algorithmic recommendations for “Ron.” Nor (as I will discuss further in
chapter 5) do users often fully know, understand, or appreciate the manners
by which users’ needs become capital that is invested and reinvested by the
owners of the information system into other information and communica-
tion systems. Last, recursive social computing systems socially position sub-
jects within new identities by gathering up users and documents together
into user groups and communicational forums and strengthening existing
sociocultural tastes, styles, and ideologies, which can sometimes result in
very productive environments and yet other times in rich, but isolated and
narrowing, islands of language and being. This “displacing energy” of “the
flock” in social networks (Thomas 2012) can also be described as the dialec-
tic of personal and group needs.
We are aware of the dominant technical functions of some of the more
popular social computing systems: Google’s PageRank characterized by a
link-analysis system of indexing and ranking, Amazon’s recommendation
system, and Facebook’s indexing of semantic, social, and physical network
However, there has been little discussion of the other side of the dia-
lectic, the sociocultural functions. Technical algorithms dialectically work
with sociocultural horizons to form historically specific, dynamic indexes
of normative social and cultural spaces. How do social computing systems
incorporate “user preferences” at the most ineffable reaches of personal
choice and social positioning? Vocabulary alone tells us very little about
social positioning when it occurs beyond tightly structured domains. As
has long been understood in information science, we need understandings
of linguistic syntaxes (derived through grammatical, discursive, and rhe-
torical analysis, or through semantic inference) and social syntaxes (derived
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 73

through URLs, IP addresses, social relationships on the net or derived

through social network analyses) in order to gain more predictive indexes
of future needs based on what a person is assumed to do as a part of per-
sonal, social, and cultural “trends.”
Cultural and social analyses in modernity have referred to these larger
sociocultural parameters for individual and group social positioning accord-
ing to terms such as “taste,” “style,” and “ideology.” The first two terms
belong to the domain of aesthetics. Taste refers to subjective judgments of
harmony or disharmony that lead to group inclusion or exclusion. One has
judgments of taste regarding objects, people, or events, liking them or not,
finding them beautiful or not, and so forth, but such judgments conform
or not to other people’s tastes, as well. Tastes are emotional judgments that
socially position the self in regard to others.
Style refers to the particular way a thing is done—to an aesthetic syntax
or rhythm. It, too, is aesthetic, in the sense that, in Kant’s language, there
is not a matching and subordination of the object or event to categories of
understanding, but rather, a judgment is made of style in relation to one’s
likes or dislikes. One likes someone’s style or not, this is the newest style
in a designer’s fashion line, one has one’s own style (distinct from others),
and so on.
Read from the viewpoint of aesthetics, ideological judgments are aes-
thetic in the sense that they are emotive, “unconscious” acts of self-posi-
tioning within social, cultural, and overall political norms. Human beings
are highly social animals, and their use of relatively sophisticated language
and other semantic sign systems as communicational means allows persons
to be social even when in relative physical isolation. (When left in isola-
tion or dreaming, people must talk to themselves.) Ideology is the logos
or the arrangement of ideas or concepts. Ideology is the arrangement of
conceptual forms that make the world as a whole—to borrow a term from
Heidegger (1962), zuhanden, or ready-to-hand—graspable as a concept.
“Information” and its “society” and “age” are graspable as a concept of the
world most by those who live within the social benefits of its technologies
and their tropes, but also by those who are forced to, either from necessity
or from hope. This is always the way it is with ideology, and why it really
is so readily recognizable. It forms the totality of what Heidegger called the
“ontic”—the commonsense everyday or “folkloric” way in which we look
at the world as the world.
74 Chapter 4

In Marxist discourse, ideology is seen as holding together real relations

in a mode of capitalist production. Through ideology we understand what
is and the way it is according to some coherent (or at least we suppose
coherent) vision of the world, which overcomes all the paradoxes of how
things occur. Within ideology, conceptual or discursive positions, state-
ments of fact, opinion, and explanations for actions are expressed by the
self without critical consideration upon the social, cultural, and political
construction of these expressions. When understood through Kant’s notion
of the aesthetic, the self through ideology feels comfortable with itself in
its world because his or her utterances fit within a rational mode of under-
standing by others.
The inscriptions of the self in aesthetic judgments (in the Kantian
sense)— unconscious prejudgments or what we today call “prejudices”—
often take place at the point of linguistic and social syntaxes, rather than
individual words (though, of course, individual words may become “power
words” in situations that mobilize larger sets of actions and words). We can
tell someone’s tastes and style and we can read their actions as ideological
only if we see them express themselves in an extended syntax of words and
actions over time and such conform to (categorical) “class” biases. When
we experience others saying or doing something in the same or like way
over time, then we make judgments based on the form, rather than domi-
nantly the content, of their words and actions. Such judgments are made
via recognition from past experiences, and so they are in this sense aes-
thetic in nature. We feel that these others and their expressions are like or
not, and so, as we say in English, we often like them or not, based on this.
“Liking,” here, is a mode of being at home with others based on feelings
of similar judgments. It is the way of identifying with someone through
shared predications.
From these forms, we then make predicative judgments for an identity
and, if it is a person, his or her intentions. Viewed critically, so-and-so acts
in such a way, despite the logic of the situation, and so we say that he or
she demonstrates an ideological bias, especially if the context is recognized
as being “class based” (which is often understood as an economic class). So-
and-so demonstrates a liking for impressionist, rather than expressionist,
painting, and so has a particular taste in art (and so, crudely, we may like or
dislike them or their judgments based on this). So-and-so has certain ways
of doing certain things and so he or she demonstrates a style in approaching
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 75

certain types of problems or everyday affairs. And so, too, texts exhibit cer-
tain points of view by their narrative consistency and genre forms; they
have their unique styles that we attribute to an author (high cultural forms)
or a genre (low cultural forms). Texts belong to certain social categories and
appeal to high and low tastes by their diction. And they exhibit certain
authorial styles in their grammatical and rhetorical syntaxes.
From a computational perspective, it is the job of software algorithms
and indexing to sort out these qualities and to help orient a person toward
such groupings or to exclude them from a personal search. The documen-
tary user is being reborn as a subject of social computing systems.


These terms—taste, style, and ideology—are very important for our analysis
of information systems because they indicate how both persons and docu-
ments are mediated by not only the technologies and rules of computa-
tional algorithms, but also by the rules of sociocultural norms.
Within documentary systems, persons and texts are positioned through
documentary algorithms and indexes. The sociotechnical positioning
of subjects within groups and of groups within subjective responses and
needs may be characterized psychologically and politically by the function
of “interpellation,” and in terms of the mathematical functions of social
computing algorithms by its near homonym, “interpolation.”
Let us start with the issue of ideology. For the French Marxist Louis
Althusser (who was influenced by the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s under-
standing of subjectivity as being constructed through symbolic fields),
“interpellation,” from “interpeller” (meaning to call out, to hail, to heckle),
involves the subject coming to understand him- or herself as a subject of
reference in response to a particular type of hailing or call (Althusser 2001).
From the point of view of Lacan’s “algebraic” formulations, as well as social
computing algorithms, the subject is viewed as a subject by virtue of its
social positioning within an economy of language and other semantic ref-
erences. The subject, and subjectivity, is viewed as being a social function.
One of the primary goals of undergoing clinical psychoanalysis is to
arrive at the point of being a functioning subject through an understand-
ing of one’s place in the world. This social positioning is precisely the point
of critique in Althusser’s critical remarks about the subject’s position within
76 Chapter 4

ideology. From a Marxist viewpoint, subjects in capitalism are positioned

through their psychological and social development, and through contin-
ual discipline and coding, to reproduce the labor and values that are impor-
tant to capital. The person is thus not only called upon, but also through
algorithmic systems their future actions are predicted, through interpola-
tions based on past performances and social norms. These predictive points
then are reinforced by advertising or other means so that the subject comes
increasingly to view his- or herself according to likely future interpola-
tions with less and less deviancy at each point. This is exactly the type of
self-estimation and self-shaping that is required of persons in systems that
demand maximum performance. Learning and human development are
integral for creating the conditions for interpellation, and it is into learning
and human development that algorithms and indexes are most effectively
placed for determining a documentary spirit and establishing a documen-
tary means of governance and self-governance. Self-commodification and
a transformation of personal singularity to an estimated ideal most success-
fully occurs when introjected into the subject as an ego-ideal, which devel-
opmentally guides the acquisition of knowledge and modes of expression.
In psychoanalytic discourse, “introjection” refers to the mental coding of
the subject by cultural forms and social norms, forming unconscious sys-
tems of semantic forms and of rules and roles for expression.
In his late essay, “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus,”
Althusser (2001) illustrates the manner by which persons come to recog-
nize themselves as subjects through calls from an authoritative law that
address him or her as a “me” within a moral and political order. This “me,”
this object pronoun, becomes the ego-ideal form for the “I,” the subject
pronoun, which grammatically marks the intentional human agent.
The call seems to come out of nowhere, because it is the voice of con-
science (the call of the superego or das Über-Ich); it is the voice of an exter-
nal authority that has been given the power to construct and curb desire
(the id or das Es) and create the ego (the I or das Ich)—less as a self and
more as a person within moral (and for Althusser, primarily economic and
political) orders. In Althusser’s conceptualization of interpellation, follow-
ing Lacan’s work, the Freudian topology of the id, ego, and superego is
understood within a linguistic, and particularly, a communicational frame-
work, but one in which the individual is literally in-formed as a subject by
the performance and affect of the call, even before its particular content.
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 77

One is interpellated into line, or literally, ordered within a moral and politi-
cal regime, by this call, which is backed by indoctrinations into the state’s
righteousness and force.
This is Althusser’s famous example of the interpellation of the ideologi-
cal subject:
As a first formulation I shall say: all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individu-
als as concrete subjects, by the functioning of the category of the subject.
This is a proposition which entails that we distinguish for the moment between
concrete individuals on the one hand and concrete subjects on the other, although
at this level concrete subjects only exist insofar as they are supported by a concrete
I shall then suggest that ideology “acts” or “functions” in such a way that it “re-
cruits” subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or “transforms” the in-
dividuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very precise operation which
I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of
the most commonplace everyday police (or other) hailing: “Hey, you there!”
Assuming that the theoretical scene I have imagined takes place in the street,
the hailed individual will turn round. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree
physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that
the hail was “really” addressed to him, and that “it was really him who was hailed”
(and not someone else). Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of
hailings is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, the one
hailed always recognizes that it is really him who is being hailed. And yet it is a
strange phenomenon, and one which cannot be explained solely by “guilt feelings”,
despite the large numbers who “have something on their consciences.” (Althusser
2001, 117–118)

Althusser’s example is of a policeman hailing a person, but this consti-

tutes for Althusser an “operation” or “function”— a set of technologies
and techniques—within a telecommunicational situation. Why “telecom-
munication”? First, because the call comes from a distance (“hail”); second,
because it involves a short, distinct, operation of message transmission; and
third, because the distance that it is transmitted across is not just a physical
distance, but a psychological one: the person is taken out of his or her self-
hood and transported into being a person within a public order. And last,
because in true statistical fashion for information message signaling (as in
Claude Shannon’s model) it involves the averaging and estimating of value
for the individual based on statistical norms. The individual is predicated as a
subject by social psychology and law in the operation of the call, and this call
is then taken up or “received” by the subject because it is understood as the
78 Chapter 4

voice of law through the psychological and moral makeup of the individual
as a subject. In other words, informational communication occurs because the
dialectical positions of the caller and the respondent are part of a logic of under-
standing, communication, and conscience that has been introjected into individuals
through learning and experience, cultural institutions, and sometimes by threat
of force. Subjects are, literally, evidence of a socio-cultural-technical system,
which constitutes for them a subjectivity, that is, a function or way of being;
a system to which they respond by their very performances and expressions.
It is to the subject position within the call that the individual responds. The
call belongs not solely to either the policeman or to the one being called by
the policeman. Such a call belongs, first of all, to a discursive order of the law
(legal, moral, and social). It is one way that we belong to a social order and
it is an important way for us to be recognized and to have value for another
and ourselves as social animals. For this reason, the individual responds to
the policeman’s call, and the policeman is responding to a more abstract and
general moral and political call of the law, as well.
Subjects are beings who belong to moral orders. To be a subject, and so
to be treated as one who has and takes on responsibilities (that is, abilities
or skills in responding), one must first of all have incorporated the uncon-
scious skill, the habit, of responding to a call. In modernity, to respond to
a call is, first of all and above all, to be able to respond to the anonymity
of the call, an anonymity that comes from sociocultural, state, and insti-
tutional systems (e.g., the legal system) to which both the caller and the
called respond in the form of expressions and practices. The foundational
calls of modern institutions appear as anonymous as they summon con-
sumers and producers, victims and persecutors, subjects and objects into
a common space of responding to one another, all held together by the
more primary moral and political requirement of responding to the call
of the logic of the system itself as a sanctified, normative, way of being. For
better or worse, such ways answer the question of being in not only a com-
forting manner, but also an acceptable manner, for the social being that
human beings are. They give to individuals a meaning and a sense, literally
beyond their own singular particularities. (Though these moral orders may
still conflict with one another and have to be resolved in ethical decisions
by individuals within situations of what Derrida termed “undecidability.”)
Telephonics is an early technological example of our moral training of
responding to calls that far precedes and extends beyond the technology
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 79

of the telephone, lying in the techniques, logics, and grammars of social

and cultural responding and self-positioning. One answers calls in certain
ways; this is the most fundamental training of any child as a responsible
child—responding to others, whether via the telephone or some other tech-
nology. The developmental extension of one’s response to a call—from the
formation of a social and cultural conscience to a moral conscience to a
technological conscience—is a phenomenon that also lies at the heart of
information and communication technologies’ abilities to both answer
needs and also extend those needs by their own sociotechnical devices. The
call behind interpellation, namely, the call of subjectivity itself, is why we
can’t put the phone down and why the Internet keeps us hanging on, often
addictively. (As Avital Ronell has argued in her works, addiction is, essen-
tially, an issue of the sublimation of Mitsein.) This is, at heart, the source of
what we might call the psychotechnical pathologies that define a “digital
culture” or “digital society,” and so, a “digital being,” and which, indeed,
make many other important modern technologies indispensible.5 There is
an originary ontic concept or idea to needs, an inscription to desire, a logic
and grammar of rational organization and action upon being, which ideol-
ogy supports. With each movement of the dialectic, it both reasserts itself
practically and retreats further back into the obscurity of not being seen as a
purely theoretical concept. Far from being seen in the moment of Hegelian
absolute being, a concept of being disappears from obvious view while each
of the beings embody and show it—“empirically” as this term is used in the
social sciences—giving way to a higher level of subsumption and a greater
level of embodiment. The core of an episteme disappears in its very fulfill-
ment, dwelling in a subsequent concept that expresses the former one in a
comparatively new form. In such a way, the “secret” of a concept of being
is passed on from one generation of technology and subjects to another. A
“culture” and a “tradition” are formed, as metaphysical continuities, gen-
eration after generation.
In a footnote to the above quoted section of his essay, Althusser notes
that the interpellation he refers to is a very specific type of hailing, namely
a policeman hailing an individual as a suspect in a crime. The individual
is the “one” that is hailed. As a suspect in a crime one must respond to a
charge; this charge is not only in the content of the address, but first of all
in its tone—that is what makes it a charge and not just an inquiry. There
is a total economy of language, society, and a way of being that one is
80 Chapter 4

responding to, not just to an individual person. One is called forth within
an evidentiary system in order to represent oneself as fully present in the
here and now. One must present all that one has been and is in a way that
satisfies the system. One must intuitively understand its logic (or hire a
legal representative who understands it). One must understand the types of
subjects that it calls out to and demands evidence of, and the averages that
it assumes, the leveling out of data points in one’s life. In brief one must
document one’s self as innocent or otherwise.
It is a sociocultural, technological, modern documentary system that is
calling one, as one. The moral demand of this interpellation upon a person
is that one understands the nature of evidence and what is being asked for.
First of all, it demands that one has formed a notion of the documented
subject within one’s self, before the internalized voice of, say, the legal sys-
tem and its institutions, so that one knows how to respond in the actual
situation of presenting one’s self before the law when the moment comes
when one is called upon to do so.
Being hailed, one must understand dialectic in a particular sociocultural
and political order. One must have internalized the law of the subject before
the call of the law or any other moral order. One must be prefigured to
receive the hail of the order as a subject in a documentary way, otherwise,
one cannot represent one’s self either well or adequately, and may not even
know enough to respond. (Failure in this last will result in the greatest force
of discipline and punishment being exerted upon one, because it is, beyond
all else, the moral-political error not to be able to document one’s self within
a modern institutional order in the way called for; a fundamental error of
a lack of social maturity which requires a primitive and unforgettable means
of punishment. One must know enough, if anything, to respond to the call
of a system, to be responsible as an identity in whatever is understood as
an organized system, otherwise, one cannot subsequently defend one’s self
and, therefore, one cannot be either guilty or not guilty as charged. One is
first of all, as Kafka put it in the title of his story, “Before the Law”—“Vor
dem Gesetz.”)
Let us stress that in Althusser’s example, the policeman is looking for
evidence, namely, evidence that one is a certain type of person or not. He or
she is looking for one to represent one’s self in terms of the interpellation
that one is brought within, as being either true or false to that type. One
is being called to document one’s self as a being that fits (or does not) an
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 81

information need, as determined by a system of documents of suspicion.

An individual is called into such a system, as “one,” within a typology of
documentary signs.
But, again, before that particular investigation, there exists an already
general system of representation to which one responds as “naturally”
belonging to. In modernity, one belongs to a documentary society, a soci-
ety in which one’s being is in so much as it is evidenced, proved (what
Avital Ronell referred to as “the test drive” [Ronell 2005], a tendency exac-
erbated by the neoliberalist virtue of competition). One must prove one’s
self within systems of proof or evidence; this is the political and moral
economy of life’s meaning—of one’s being—in such systems.
One is pre-enrolled as a subject upon birth, and then within a range
of types of subjective being. This pre-enrollment takes place from birth
onward, when physical needs are answered by cultural and social inscrip-
tions, which transform those self-needs into person-needs, with the resulting
transformation of the self-who-needs into a subject-who-knows-how-to-
respond, and so knows how to articulate his or her needs in the language of
dominant reality and its symbolic orders (that is, the transformation into
a subject who now needs information or knowledge). In this sense, above
all, ideological calls are “telecommunication” because the practice of com-
munication—and the practice of the dialogical inscription of subjects as
information needs (and as responding to those needs)—occurs within the
inscription of a prior opening. The logic of the communication that forms
the hail—that of call and response, of information need and documentary
evidence—takes place within an arrangement of understandings whereby
the self has come to understand itself as a person within orders of recogni-
tion and evidence. The logic of communication takes place within a docu-
mentary logic, which structures the self as a responsible subject that responds
not simply to an other, but first of all to the symbolic order itself and its
logic of identity and expression in terms of the presenting of evidence.
In social computing algorithms relationships are based on logical infer-
ence or interpolated proximity. Relevancy in information retrieval is sug-
gested to the subject as a statistical relation. One becomes, pace Briet (2006),
an indexical sign by one’s inclusion as evidence within a taxonomy of likely
types (“initial documentation”) and, further, within discursive systems that
link one’s identity to other documents (“secondary documentation”). The
self becomes a document, both to others and to one’s own present, past,
82 Chapter 4

and futures (through recursive systems), and through their indexes the doc-
uments become agents who shape the searchers’ past, present, and future
Who calls to me through social computing mechanisms? In one sense,
obviously, I am being called by the indexes of the algorithms. For example,
with Amazon’s recommendation system which calls out to me: “Hello,
Ron,” and then makes recommendations based on my past browsing and
buying histories and that of others that it has identified to be like me. Here,
I am being hailed as one suspected of being interested in some thing or
another. I can also set up in “push” technologies or recommendation sys-
tems fields of documentary indexes to hail me as someone interested in
various things. Facebook hails me as someone likely to be interested in
other people who know people that I know. Simply by having an identity
online we are now hailed by other people. And we are first of all hailed by
the sociotechnical information system itself (as representative and media-
tor of a political economy) as a fulfiller of an information need. We come
to hail ourselves as certain representations of persons by our very searching
and communicating online.
In Internet social computing systems, the commodification of identity
becomes very difficult for the user to control. One is caught up in past
selves that one may no longer wish to be; one is caught up by what others
think and whom others know; one must manage many different social sys-
tems (e.g., scholarly identity, personal identity, local community identity,
credit identity, popular cultural identity). In short, if one is to try and pres-
ent one’s self wholly consistently, one must try and become a corporation
or conglomeration of one’s different selves, unified into a brand. One must
devote time and budget to building and maintaining this brand. Managing
the systems that discuss and process one’s identity can become complex, as
one can be assessed from many points of view, in many different networks.
One can be interpellated and interrogated in so many various ways. Every
person with access to a computer and an Internet connection now has the
possibility of being a media(ted) star.
What Althusser (2001) is calling interpellation is a two-fold process. First,
there is the displacement of the personal psychological self (understood as
a toolbox of hypothetical potentials) by a social psychological person (as a
set of logical possibilities within a discursive or symbolic order). And second,
there is the psychological introjection of that figure into the individual in
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 83

the mode of an expressive subject—that is, in the mode of expressive forms,

styles, and tastes that correspond to needs that can be satisfied within a
political economy. Here, then, the satisfaction of needs corresponds to a
useful and adequate social information system, and individuals as users
correspond to queries that can be entered into a social search. In an ideal
information system, the system continually readjusts so as to maintain
equilibrium of norms for meaning between these two points, resulting in
what we call “communication” and “information.” Information and com-
munication mean, here, the stating and satisfying of needs by documents
and other people in a system. These demand a stabilization of vocabulary
as a prerequisite for language acts, and social computing does this through
mediating individual user searches through past searches and group activi-
ties and ontologies, and by readjusting the social order based on new user
searches. The system moves in an Aufhebung of gathering up the sub-
ject’s needs (expressed through vocabulary, links, etc.) toward the others,
reweighting the others’ values for the subject’s needs, and recalibrating the
dialectic as a whole as a moment of progress in the refinement of informa-
tion for all; Thomas’s “flock of birds” where leaders take turns from one
another (Thomas 2012a) in satisfying a need.
Social computing modifies the form of human historicity. First, like
much of computational space, acts cannot be rewritten except by further
acts that modify their weighted values. Similarly, second, acts cannot be,
or they resist being, forgotten both in whole and in parts (Blanchette and
Johnson 2002). Third, the progress or Aufhebung of the system speeds up the
overall temporality of the system and its participants. The “new rhythm”
(Briet 2006) of a technology introduces a new rhythm in the technicity of
human performance. By narrowing options and the formal nature of needs,
which increases the speed of information and communication in a system,
efficiency is achieved and labor saved. This labor then can be devoted to
other tasks, not only over time, but also through the switching in and out
of tasks (i.e., multitasking).
The overall limits to the speed of a sociotechnical information and com-
munication system must include the overall goals, tasks, and limits of the
person or persons involved. Some, such as Franco Berardi (2001), have sug-
gested that, with the heavy use of networked information and communi-
cation technologies, anxiety and depression occur in individuals through
the constant switching in and out of cognitive foci with multitasking and
84 Chapter 4

the breaking of relations of deep solicitude and their replacement by a

temporality of screen attention. As human beings attempt to keep up with
the speed of automated systems the nature of psychological temporality
changes. This is a constant point of critique for philosophical and critical
work in modernity (e.g., the work of the Romantic poets and philosophers
of the nineteenth century, and twentieth century critics such as Heidegger,
Benjamin, and Habermas), as well as more recent ethnographically based
works (e.g., Turkle 2011). Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times may have a con-
temporary equivalent in digital overload.

Indexing It All

Computational social interpellation takes place in symbolic fields, through

sociocultural and technical dialectical algorithms that gather up, sublimate,
and exclude and include persons and texts toward the formation of users
and documents, information needs and information, and increasingly col-
located data. Both the expanse of materials and the refinement of infor-
mation are seen as goals for increasing relevancy for system users. Both
have been achieved through the greater availability of documents in digital
form for the Internet (or other digital systems), advances in harvesting and
indexing the contents of documents, increases in the mediums that collect,
harvest, and index the Internet, and not least of all, a greater penetration
of interfaces that allow access and searching of these materials. Commu-
nication mediums, such as Facebook, work on information indexing and
retrieval principles, though with somewhat different ends (more extended
flows of information between subjects, rather than temporary or terminal
searches; relevancy searches across social networks, etc.).
Let us now briefly return to consider problems of affect—taste and style—
as elements in social positioning. For affect is one of the newest horizons
for responding to and predicting information (and commodity) needs, and
as we will see in the next chapter it is a crucial problem in android design.
Generally, vocabulary itself is not contextual enough to indicate or guide
social positioning—we rely on linguistic and sociocultural grammars (in
Wittgenstein’s sense of “grammar”) of language use in order to see which
way an inquiry, discourse, or argument is “going.” That is, in Frege’s lan-
guage, to see not only the reference or “meaning” of a term, but also its
“sense” (Frege 1952; Deleuze 1990). Taste and style, along with ideology,
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 85

have been critical cultural terms by which we attempt to understand the

present-future grammar of a subject. They exist as “feelings” that often
ground a subject’s further judgments, understanding, and actions. Thus,
they are very useful for prediction.
The recognition of a person’s style and taste are everyday aesthetic
means for inferring present and future social positioning. On the other
hand, they are “fuzzy” variables, whose values are derived by observing or
recording repeated acts and by social context. One’s tastes and styles are
shown over time and in relation to others. They are emotive, rather than
cognitive, acts, because affective sense is determinate for their meaning. It
is therefore not surprising that social networking systems, such as Twitter
or Facebook, as well as older markets (such as the stock market), are viewed
as sites where taste and style may be investigated and data gathered. In
such symbolic markets, taste and style are translated into social value and
can achieve communicational contagion. These mass movements then can
lead to the reweighting of indexes of value (documentary worth, financial
worth). Documents achieve real world sense and popular value by being
communicated, not simply by being retrieved. And it is through commu-
nication that search engines and documentary indexes most fully become
social media, and that the evidence of documents becomes or reinforces
norms, ideologies, tastes, and styles.
“Taste” is the term given since the eighteenth century to aesthetic judg-
ments, but in Kant’s sense of the term (Kant 2000), judgments of taste were
not exclusive to judgments on fine art. Rather, as was remarked earlier,
aesthetic judgments more generally—that is, judgments regarding form—
align persons with other persons based on their likes and dislikes. From
this perspective, together with notions of style, the categories of taste and
style bridge personal and social psychologies and act as ineffable indexes
of sociocultural class membership for individuals. Today, one important
function for social computing software is to anticipate judgments regarding
information sources or potential information and communication sources.
Taste and style are some of the genres of judgment that social computing
attempts to find in syntaxes of language and social and cultural member-
ship vis-à-vis language and other signifying means.
As Althusser’s notion of ideology indicates, ideological interpellation
is a largely unconscious form of class inscription and expression, through
which meaning takes place through a subject and for other subjects. Taste
86 Chapter 4

makes up much of the form of ideology and class inclusion in consumer

culture. One expresses statements of likes and dislikes regarding commod-
ity items and other people and events, and so aligns one’s own person with
others through such tokens. In consumer culture, one also expresses a style
through objects. Commodity objects offer evidence of one’s belonging to
a field of taste, style, and use (whether the object is actually used or is just
collected); they document a relationship between people in terms of inter-
est domains (knowledge, sports, fashion, idiosyncrasies, etc.). The Internet
has been a great boom in erasing the difference between individual traits
and social inscription.
Are one’s tastes and styles one’s own, as it were, or are one’s tastes taken
directly from some group or “class” taste (to be a member of high society, to
be a punk rocker, to be a Harley Davidson motorcycle rider, or to be a “red-
neck”)? Here, one is both being something and always striving to be that
by maintaining styles of expression. So correspondingly, it may be asked if
one’s style is made up of unique performative traits or is one “stylistic”—in
the sense of “fashionable”—that is, one’s “own” style belongs to certain
fashions? There are large intercultural and intersocial variances, too, for
the moral understanding and evaluation of a person acting at either range
of the meaning of “style,” with some societies valuing “individual style”
and others valuing group belonging. (Though, it is difficult to tell when
an individual style is not a group characteristic. For example, is the “indi-
vidual” style typical in the United States what one means by “individual” in
distinction from group belonging [i.e., when it is so typical], or conversely,
is the singular difference in the midst of group conformity, as in Japanese
cultural psychology for example, more representative of individuality?)
The semantic horizons of sociocultural genres such as style, taste, and to
a more critical sensibility, ideology, mark zones for the merging of personal
and social psychologies. Thus, these genres are rich areas for social com-
puting research and design, which attempt to locate individuals as both
individuals and as members of groups. Correspondingly, social computing
indexes act as computational mediators of personal and group psychology
according to affective operations such as “liking” or “disliking” common
objects or events, whether they be high or low cultural or social items.
Before the Internet, it was easier to take taste and style as one’s own. Now,
even one’s name can no longer be taken as strictly one’s own.
Social Computing and the Indexing of the Whole 87

In neoliberalism, one must create a market out of one’s self. This requires
self-positioning, which necessitates seeing one’s self from the marketplace
eyes of others, as a person within a market of competing goods (and per-
sons being marketplace goods as well). In a digital marketplace one must
turn one’s self into a marketable person and one’s marketable person must
take the form of being a documentary and informational commodity; a
uniqueness that fulfills an information need, which, however, is not so
unique as not to be part of a market. At the same time as it shows our
uniqueness, the Internet demands our interpellation/interpolation as an
online identity. After all, who, today, wants one’s social network “friends”
to “dislike” or “de-friend” one? More generally, who doesn’t want to be a
document for another’s need? (There seems to be a sort of adolescent psy-
chological drive operating through these systems.) In the chapter on social
big data, we will return to this intersection of the modern documentary
tradition and neoliberalism more fully.
In the next chapter, however, we will examine the modern documentary
tradition in another epistemic-historical moment, namely in the mimicry
of human subjectivity by robot design and the creation and the recursive
reinvestment of communicative documents between humans and robots.
If persons have become documents for information systems, the desire of
android robotics is to make robots (whose actions appear through docu-
ments of code) more human. For this to occur information must be turned
into communication, or at least some semblance of communication.
5 The Document as the Subject: Androids

“Homo documentator” must prepare himself to take command—with all his senses
awake—over the robots of tomorrow. The value of the machine will be that of a ser-
vant. “Our ability to overtake machinism lies in our possibilities of assimilating the
machine” (Mumford).
—Suzanne Briet, What Is Documentation? (1951/2006)

The statement above from Suzanne Briet’s book raises the issue of tak-
ing command of machines by assimilating them. In this process “man”
performs this assimilation in order not to become a mechanism of the
machine. As we have seen so far, though, this is tricky because information
and communication techniques and technologies increasingly mediate our
own understanding of the world, including what such technologies are,
within the modern documentary episteme. Machinism is not something
that one can simply put at a distance, since techne inhabits the type of being
that human being is, and modern technologies constitute much of the
infrastructures of most people’s worlds today. Moreover, information and
communication technologies require an infrastructural enfolding of techne,
so that we forget its very presence in transparency. This transparency often
involves a double bind, a “yes” and a “no,” to the question of whether the
technology mediates or changes information and communication. Even
with the telephone, we know that “reaching out to touch someone” (as the
old Bell Telephone ads put it) through the telephone reasserts the distance
between the two communicators. In the same way, more recently, we see
that our online friends come with the caveat of the loss of their not being
here, often with the effect of reducing correspondence to mere chitchat.
This is the “catch” of all modern information and communication tech-
nologies. It is, however, a catch that Plato, too, noted in Phaedrus about the
90 Chapter 5

technology of writing more generally, understood as a representation of the

speaker him- or herself; in other words, writing as a documentary practice.
Humans assimilate themselves to the technologies, but then these technol-
ogies shape not only further technologies, but the very nature of human
being itself through their infrastructural, psychological, and, increasingly,
physiological incorporation into the human environment and body.
The machine often shows its materiality most when it is explicitly made
to be like us. The dream remains to make objects that not only leverage our
knowledge, not only document certain aspects of our being and expression,
but that are us; machines that we can communicate with, as if to another
person. Robots that are not just servants (as per the etymology of the term
“robot”), but are also companions—the dream of being living texts, as it
were. But further, dialectically, androids are dreamt of as things that assimi-
late us like we assimilate them … a fellow homo documentator that is, yet, more
than this … more human by being less so. Not just a “dumb beast” of a person,
nor a mere “parrot” of ourselves either, but something more like us. Android
robotics offers an interesting example of Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, where
the master becomes the slave to the slave by trying to make the latter fit
within its mode of a will to power in a certain formation of consciousness.
In this chapter I would like to discuss the problems involved with an
android being designed to achieve a psychological being and the limits to
which an android can obtain selfhood. With this, I would like to discuss
the ways that humans construct their own selves through these robotic
others—how humans assimilate themselves to robots in order to (mistak-
enly or not, consciously or not, successfully or not) “assist” robots in being
assimilated to human beings. I would like to further explore the dialecti-
cal constitution of being through documentary means, here seen from the
view of what we could call “communicative robotics” and “communicative
artificial intelligence.” These terms describe attempts to build machines
whose “intelligence” emerges through their communicative exchanges
with people rather than through coding alone. (The modern documentary
ontology emerges in all of these: in the coding, in the design of machines
as representations of humans, and in the semantic inter-“subjective” space
of communicative events that are then taken as documents for further
Machine learning is an important part of this, but just the beginning. As
I will emphasize in this chapter, we must not discount the role of human
The Document as the Subject 91

projection in attributions of machine intelligence nor in facilitating learn-

ing by machines. People become the training sets for their own mimicry—
training sets for both the robots and for the human beings themselves in
their relation to the robots. In the dialectical progress of the documen-
tary episteme as a moment in the history of metaphysics, the predicate of
“man”—“documentator”—becomes the genus, and the genus becomes the
predicate, not through the will of the machines, but through the deploy-
ment of the idea in the will of “man.” This will expresses itself as power,
first of all in the imaginative speculation of the identity of other and self.
Android robotics involves issues of robots being read and being imag-
ined as persons. With androids, “aliveness” means not only linguistic, but
also physical responses that pass an android communicative and affective
“Turing Test” or standard for thinking that the robotic other is (or at least
acts like) a human being. Android robotics—at least understood from the
aspect of an engineering project based on mimesis—presents the ultimate
frontier in the subjectification of the document by having the documen-
tary object physically and emotively appear as a human being. But for this
reason, if no other, android robotics presents very interesting issues about
how people literally “in-form” one another, not least in subservient rela-
tionships, in a certain assertion of the will, where the other is thought of as
somewhat less than a self and instead as a malleable subject-object of some
sort. (Certain parental, disciplinary, and colonial models, and of course the
utilitarian sense of the document-friend that we discussed in the first chap-
ter come to mind here—they all seem to involve, as with pets, a certain
domestication, though of a determinate and often violent sort.) As with
Heidegger’s account of things “ready-to-hand” (Heidegger 1962), where
tools are said to show us both their physical presence and their equipmen-
tality most when we no longer use them as a matter of course (when they
are broken, for example), it is hoped by some that not only the successes,
but also the failures, of android robotics in regard to what I’ve called the
affective Turing Test may show us in part what it is to be human and what
it is to be machine.
The purpose of this chapter, then, is not to give a theoretical account
of android robotics for the purposes of an engineering project, but rather
to account for android robotics as a mode of documentary information-
communication; the unfolding and the attempt to fulfill in practice a
theory of communication situated within an informational mode and a
92 Chapter 5

documentary episteme and model. At the same time, androids produce

such a challenge to the mimicry of local and physical human communi-
cation that it is dubious that simple formal programs can accomplish the
task of overcoming the “uncanny valley.” Better models of mind need to be
developed and, possibly, bigger data sets need to be made use of in order to
arrive at even a practically acceptable expert system, much less one that has
physical agency and (even more difficult) physical human characteristics
devoid of “uncanny” markers. Indeed, the bar is so high in android robot-
ics because the Turing Test of affective mimicry fails with even the slightest
error in appearance, language, or tone of an android robot (unlike, say, a
nonhuman-appearing robot or even a humanoid).
Indeed, it is in the fostering of these “productive tones” or “moods,”
(i.e., other than anxiety or discomfort) that hold us in common, that the
android robot fails to “achieve” rather than in the lack of any cognitive
achievement. Our being, our Dasein, is essentially that of being-with (Mit-
sein); only within this (ontological) being does an (ontic) concept and its
logic—a dialectical function or a correspondence model of truth—have any
hope (and largely these are just hopes or “models”) of functioning. The
“uncanny valley” is a mood of anxiety that is created by the dissimilarity
of the android, and it is from out of this anxiety that the android fails to
deliver or soothe us. If there are to be advances in overcoming the uncanny
valley, then overcoming this anxiety and putting in its place moods of
solicitude and care is essential.
Within the foundational literature on the “uncanny valley,” beginning
at least from Masahiro Mori’s 1970 article “Bukimi no Tani GenshĿ” (English
translation: Mori 2012), androids are seen as part of a continuum of beings
that we psychologically relate to in the modern world. Such beings and
things share with us affordances in situations, but they also are understood
and shaped by our psychological projections. This demands a psychological
understanding based on a dialectical epistemology, and so our psychologi-
cal examination of androids in this chapter will be based on psychoanaly-
sis, as a psychological framework that stresses the importance of relational
development and communication within cultural frames; and within that,
specifically, we will use Lacanian psychoanalysis where dialectics plays
a very central role in understanding the constitution of self and others,
but where, also, Freud’s tendencies toward physiological reductionism are
curbed and replaced by the importance of social and cultural structures
The Document as the Subject 93

and ideology. (As we will see, historically, psychoanalytic discourse enters

into the discourse of android robotics early on, namely in regard to the dis-
course on the “uncanny valley” between humans and androids.)

Communicative Androids in Cultural and Social Context

Though the generalized claims of cultural psychology are difficult to assess,

one of the more striking attributes of Japanese social psychology, in com-
parison with that of the Western European countries and the Americas,
is the rather strong normative categories that people are expected to fit
within, both as a self and a person. At the same time, however, the moral
boundaries that constitute a self and person seem sometimes to be quite a
bit broader than in Western culture. Japanese society is known for socially
adjusting to subgroups and behavior that in Western cultures might be con-
sidered as needing legal suppression and psychological interdiction.
It is true that it can be quite difficult to operationalize cultural differ-
ences, even for descriptive purposes; first because of the hermeneutics of
such descriptions, second because any individual occupies cultures and
subcultures simultaneously, as well as is a singular assemblage of tools and
experiences from these, and third because the boundaries of what consti-
tutes a culture or subculture are rather indeterminate in many instances.
However, the adjustment to uncomfortable behaviors as part of the social
spectrum (at least within the strictures of what are thought internally to
be part of Japanese society or “character”) may be read as the other side of
the coin of a personal psychology strongly grounded in social psychology,
rather than in metaphysical conceptions of the self and individuality.
In beginning this section on android robotics by discussing Japanese
cultural psychology, I hope to provide some analogical suggestions as to
the direction that personal psychology in the West may be going in the
shift from the understanding of the user as being distinct from documents
to being inscribed in the logic of the documentary objects that the user
uses and understands. I have stressed in the previous chapters that the
informational trajectory of the documentary episteme involves the infra-
structural inscription of personal “information needs” within sociocultural
algorithms. Documentary systems now embed privileged psychological
assumptions into the functions of mediating documentary devices and
systems, resulting in not only document retrieval, but also in the social
94 Chapter 5

construction of friend relationships and the like, as well as online per-

sonal identities that correspond to and support these assumptions. In a
networked environment, the result may be the emergence of a personal
psychology that is more socially mediated, rather than one that is based on
the metaphysics of a transcendental ego.
The convergence of Japanese cultural psychology—with its heavy reli-
ance upon categories of social norms for the emergence of personal iden-
tity, and yet its valorization of the self within those norms—and android
robotics has been noted by several scholars working in android robot-
ics (MacDorman, Vasudevan, and Ho 2009; Šabanoviþ 2010), and so has
emerged as one framework through which to try and explain the strong
interest in, and acceptance of, androids and social robotics more gener-
ally in Japan. But besides being an explanatory framework, this interest
in cultural psychology highlights one of the aspects of android robotics
that marks a substantial research agenda for the artificial intelligence that
drives these robots—that is, a shift from an autonomous view of agency in
robotics to a communicational view—that is, a shift from autonomous AI
to what we might call “communicative AI.”
Since their beginnings robotics and AI have been rooted in an autono-
mous view in two ways: first, as physically autonomous machines, and
second, as formalized documents of program code. As for being physically
autonomous machines, robots have tended to be physically distinct as an
individual body performing actions. So, for example, “symbiotic” or aug-
mented robotics, such as mechanical exoskeletons (developed for carrying
heavy gear over rough terrain in military operations and to help those with
missing limbs or paralysis walk or lift heavy objects), have less the sense of
being “robots” to the popular imagination than do autonomous designs. As
for formalized code, the limits of “traditional AI” epistemologies and tech-
niques of symbol processing have led to more recent emphases upon neural,
and other, learning models and architectures for AI “thinking” (Ekbia 2008).
If we want a machine to approach a human ontology (or that of any
other higher order animal), it must first of all communicate somewhere
in that “higher” order. The traditional fundamental difference between
humans and machines has been that humans emerge out of experience
and machines emerge out of design. Up until recently, and still largely,
machines must be designed and programmed for expression. This differ-
ence is at the heart of the uncanny valley between humans and androids
The Document as the Subject 95

and why we expect other beings to be alive when we attempt to commu-

nicate with them. To be alive means to show both the versatility and the
hesitation that comes with choice and intention, and these develop out of
experience. There is a unique rhythm to individual beings, in both what
they individually do and what they don’t do, that is difficult for a machine
to replicate. For this reason, the projection of human needs onto such
machines is even more important, for it allows human beings to treat the
machine as a body and it forces them to adapt to the machine.
Communication, however, is not just characterized by a hermeneutics
of understanding with others and with the environment at large. Com-
munication is also to some degree scripted. With the environment, it is
scripted through temporal and spatial continuities and frames of under-
standing. With other people, and to some degree with other animals, it is
scripted through semantic exchanges that form, and are made up of, syn-
taxes of meaning and sense (Wittgenstein’s language games). The degree to
which a communicational exchange involves attempts at understanding or
involves scripted action varies with the context. The end goal is the same—
affect (either physically or ideationally, we want to be moved and react to,
and do, actions).1
In textual and psychological hermeneutics the problem of understand-
ing involves mediating different or conflicting frames for understanding.
We may ostensibly see the same things and events, but we bring differ-
ent assumptions, experiences, and evaluations to those things and events.
What is missed from this view, however, is that perspective is not just a
problem of frames, but of psychological and textual indexes, and that
agreements or not in understanding are indexical problems. A “frame” for
understanding or a “perspective” is really nothing other than a point of view
taken from constellations of signs tied to experience, which are connected
to previous signs and experiences. This point of view, coming from a per-
sonal index of signs and experiences, represents the gathering together of
referential networks that create a unique self, which has been constructed
over time. To share a point of view means to share at a certain point in
time a referential network that gives a more or less common meaning and/
or sense to a thing or event. The contrary applies to not sharing a point of
view: I view the U.S. Congress’s actions on a legislative bill in a certain way,
but you view them in another way. It isn’t just that we have different judg-
mental “glasses” or “frames” on, but rather that we bring different networks
96 Chapter 5

of referents, that is, different “experiences” to our personal understanding

of a thing or event.
In a sense, though, we might say that though individuals have points
of views, it is points of view (as unique constellations of experiences) that
have, and indeed make up, individuals. A singular individual is an indexical
point, a situated temporal and spatial focus of a person’s lifetime of experi-
ences, present awareness, and expectations. A person’s mental “inside,” as
one sometimes says, is the set of experientially based tools and potentials
that tie together the individual and the environment, folding the “out-
side” “in” and constituting an individual’s past, present, and future. We are
like a spider in a web; existing and being present only through the weav-
ings of signifiers that go out in every direction and that connect past and
future, with one’s self tenuously positioned as present. If we were to cut
these webs, then like a ladder that we stand on kicked out beneath us, we
would fall into irrationality, as the signifiers that hold us in those Kantian
a priori frames of spatial, temporal, and causal continuities lose the indexi-
cal historical and sociocultural relationships that keep them strong. The
singular individual is built through webs of experience and communication
between the constructed individual and the world, resulting in a living,
world-positioning index for the individual that is unique in its singularity,
but common in its cultural forms, social norms, and sense of bodily exten-
sion in space (Day 2007).
Communicative AI attempts to build a subject out of a robot through
programming and through experience gained by information exchange
and communication. Android robotics attempts to take this further, by
extending communication to the affects of bodily presence.
Integral to this project is getting humans to treat robots as communica-
tive and affective agents. The dialectic that is required is not only commu-
nicative, but also perceptual and affective. The android must not only look
like, but also act like a person in order for the affective-communicational
circuit to be complete. This is quite difficult; people are very sensitive to
perceptual cues, as well as verbal cues, and especially when these are put
together, there can be emotive and cognitive dissonance in interacting with
androids. In addition, we seem to still lack a full understanding of how peo-
ple order cultural forms and social norms, not only in cognitive judgments,
but also in moral and aesthetic judgments, and so this presents challenges
for even having a competent intelligence component, no matter if such
The Document as the Subject 97

should be embodied in formal programming or gathered through machine

learning from large data sets.

The Uncanny Valley

The term for the dissonance that occurs in human activity with androids is
the “uncanny valley” (MacDorman and Ishiguro 2006; Mori 2012). Over-
coming the uncanny valley between humans and android robots largely
entails overcoming a communicative and affective Turing Test.
Masahiro Mori’s 1970 article on the uncanny valley of robotic emotive
affects upon people, which began the discourse on the uncanny valley, has
a diagram (given below) that illustrates such affects:
As Mori’s article suggests, androids mark a point on an affective con-
tinuum ranging from industrial robots to healthy persons, passing through

+ Uncanny valley
Still Healthy
Bunraku puppet person

Humanoid robot

Stuffed animal

Industrial robot

Human likeness 50% 100%

Prosthetic hand

_ Zombie

© 2012 IEEE. Reprinted, with permission, from M. Mori (2012), “The Uncanny Val-
ley” (trans. Karl F. MacDorman and Norri Kageki), IEEE Robotics & Automation Maga-
zine, 19(2), 98–100.
98 Chapter 5

humanoid robots and stuffed animals and bottoming out with dead bod-
ies and zombies. While Mori’s argument has sometimes been treated as
an unsupported hypothesis or theory, it may perhaps be better seen as a
philosophical description of affective relationships between humans and
androids, and as such, empirical testing is neither its point nor is it appli-
cable. Philosophical models are not hypotheses, but rather they are concep-
tual experiments in our ways of speaking about and understanding things
and events.
As Karl MacDorman, who has written extensively and sensitively on the
concept of the uncanny valley has pointed out, the term “uncanny” in the
original Japanese is bukimi, which has the connotations of eerie or strange,
in the sense of there being ghosts or phantasms (MacDorman and Ishiguro
2006). Despite this Japanese origin, the literature on the uncanny valley
of human-android relations often begins with a psychological discussion
of the uncanny in the Western cultural tradition, starting with Sigmund
Freud’s well-known 1919 essay “Das Unheimliche,” translated as “The
Uncanny” (Freud 1959). Like many other German-language authors in the
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Freud used this term to refer to
various types of odd and psychologically disturbing phenomenon. It is to
this article that we will turn in the hopes of illuminating the phenomenon
of the uncanny valley.
Freud’s work (1919) cites the earlier 1906 work of the German psychia-
trist Ernst Jentsch, “On the Uncanny” (Jentsch 1996), though in his text
Freud rejects as overly simplistic Jentsch’s conclusion that feelings of the
uncanny are due to category errors in cognitive judgments. Both authors
focus their central concerns upon automatons, foremost discussing E. T. A.
Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman.” For both Jentsch and Freud the
category error produced by the perceiver’s inability to grasp the appear-
ance or actions of the automaton within the concept of “human being,”
despite the automaton’s initial appearances, leads to a feeling of unease
in the perceiver. (The intellectual origin for the psychological and the aes-
thetic epistemology here, seems to be, respectively, Kant’s notion of the
understanding in his Critique of Pure Reason and the feeling of the nega-
tive sublime in his Critique of Judgment.) In one of many respects, Freud’s
article differs from Jentsch’s in asserting that the experience of the uncanny
involves the reassertion of phylogenetic or individual repressed beliefs—
“the unheimlich is what was once heimisch, home-like, familiar; the prefix
The Document as the Subject 99

‘un’ is the token of repression” (Freud 1959, 399)—though it needs to be

added that “The Uncanny,” like many of Freud’s other theoretical essays
(i.e., those not arising from therapeutic case studies), is not uniform in its
conclusions, but exploratory in many directions.
In this last regard, perhaps the more interesting reading of the uncanny
that Freud gives, which weaves in and out and concludes his article, runs
somewhat parallel to Jentsch’s conclusions but develops them in a new
direction. Freud’s observation at the end of his article is that uncanny phe-
nomena often appear in literary writing, rather than real life, and that they
more frequently occur among young children, rather than with adults.
Freud’s view that the uncanny is an experience in the context of a narrative
setting is perhaps a very important clue for understanding the phenom-
enon of the uncanny valley.
What is important in this observation by Freud, and what in it would “go
beyond” (as Freud wished to do) Jentsch’s claims that the uncanny is made
up of category errors? Why would some event be seen as uncanny in some
genres of literature and not in others? Freud states that the uncanny does
not occur when reading or hearing fairy tales (which have large degrees of
cognitive dissonance with real life), but rather, the uncanny is an experi-
ence that occurs when reading more realistic genres, such as is the case with
Hoffmann’s tale.
Realistic narrative literature is important here because through realistic
narratives there occurs a correspondence between the reader’s perspective
and that of the narrator and the characters. There is a “suspension of dis-
belief” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s term) in the very act of reading such a
narrative, which requires the reader’s identification with the point of view
of the narrator—what Coleridge called “poetic faith” (Coleridge 1984). The
uncanny feeling is an affective product of the very difference between the
realistic setting and the progress of events in the story line. In the case of
fairy tales, realism is suspended by our expectations of the genre or from
the very start of the narrative by the words, “Once upon a time.” But in
uncanny stories the overall story frame is realistic, though with significant
deviations at key moments in the narrative.
Not surprisingly, as is also the case with almost all horror stories, many
of these deviations most often involve the confusion of living and dead
things. MacDorman and Ishiguro have linked this confusion to the ques-
tion of whether what is essential about the uncanny in android robotics is
100 Chapter 5

that the not-quite-human android evokes a fear of death in the perceiver

(MacDorman and Ishiguro 2006). This would be a position not so far from
Freud’s (1959), in that the uncanny object would reawaken repressed
thoughts of mortality and death. While this is perhaps true, uncanny expe-
riences constitute a wider domain of dissonance between animate and
inanimate objects, though the dissonance with human beings may strike us
as the most gruesome. Sticks at night being mistaken as snakes, and human
part-objects, such as prosthetic limbs, may also elicit uncanny experiences
(Mori 2012).
By combining these insights we are led to the conclusion that the
uncanny valley appears because of intentional or causally expected actions
that are interrupted by their contraries, particularly when the contrar-
ies involve ambiguity in the appearance or actions of others, especially
humans, in the environment. The context for this, however, are situations
that involve what Martin Heidegger (another writer on the unheimlich),
referred to in Being and Time as various forms of care or solicitude (Sorge,
Fürsorge, Besorgen). Because we identify with a narrative or sympathize with
another person, we can be shocked or disturbed by dissonances in what
we expect their appearances or actions to be. Humans (and other animals,
certainly) have sympathetic relationships with other beings in this world
by virtue of their co-occupying the world, and especially when the other
appears or acts more like themselves.
Our concern or care for others involves our reading upon the other our
own experiences and our anticipations and values of actions performed
by an intentional agent. A projective understanding—an understanding of
others in terms of what we previously understand and anticipate of (and
value or not about) them—seems to be fundamental in human relation-
ships, whether the other is empirically present or we try to understand
them through produced texts or traces of past actions. Realistic narratives
absorb a reader’s intentions in the intentions exhibited by the agents of the
text and their environments. Currently, achieving this with androids is dif-
ficult to do. Androids would need to exhibit not only continuities of action
and unities of intention, but human-like vicissitudes within contexts that
would show human intention, choice, and that human mode of intended
action that is commonly called “will.”
The failure to pass an android-human Turing Test and the feeling of
the uncanny occur because of the initial assumption that this other should
The Document as the Subject 101

act the way I expect a human to act. And if it doesn’t act in such a way,
then my response will be either pity or worry (is he or she ill?) or if the
other acts aggressively or not at all, then, perhaps fear or uncertainty. The
uncanny experience is strongest when faced with those robot agents that
most resemble humans because of our abilities to perceive the slightest dif-
ference in the appearance and behavior of other human beings. As Jentsch,
Freud, and Mori all noted, the feeling of the uncanny is a result of an aes-
thetic, as well as a cognitive, judgment. With aesthetics judgments, pace
Kant, we judge how a thing appears to us; we look at its form and compare
it with other forms. As Mori’s graph shows, the ontology of affective judg-
ments with androids has a place on a continuum of other affective judg-
ments regarding, especially, humans and human-appearing objects (stuffed
animals, dead bodies, zombies, etc.).
Judgments of likeness and dislikeness are based not only on what the
other seems to lack, but also on what the other has. Mutlu et al. (2009), for
example, have done experiments that use gaze to suggest intentionality.
Silence, hesitation, recalcitrance, and seemingly neutral affects in interper-
sonal interaction all play a role in “absorbing” and “repulsing” individu-
als into and from each other, just as texts may absorb or frustrate readers.
For this reason, as we will soon discuss further, fully scripted interactions
are not sufficient to satisfy human communication needs in perhaps the
majority of cases of either human role playing or in android-human inter-
actions, save where such is expected (e.g., phone directory services, etc.).
There is a crucial moment of response that reveals the integrity and truth of
human intentions in any situation, and while this may be masked in part
over the short term, over time, as is said in English, the various “true colors”
of a person shine through. Individually, one responds to an encounter that
has always already been prepared in some general way by our experiences
as living beings together. The uniqueness of an expression takes place in a
commonality of possible responses. A response to an encounter is given in
words or other gestures, and human meaning appears as intentions toward
future actions (and will come to characterize the particular being of the
individuals involved). It emerges out of an indetermination between what
came before and what is present in any encounter.
There are many other problems toward giving robots “souls” that are
seen to be humanlike—that is, to give them a presence not just of mind,
but of human being, which may be enough to suggest personhood, or even
102 Chapter 5

beyond this, a selfhood that is physically, emotionally, and cognitively

enough humanlike as to pass mimetic tests. Just two examples are those of
rhythms and modulations in pace and tone of voice, and a person’s ability
to manipulate social situations as tools for making the environment suit-
able (Cowley and MacDorman 2006).
Indeed, in order to manage the problem of the complexity of human
intersubjective affects as a barrier to human-robot interaction, as Šabanoviü
(2010) argues, Japanese robotics has sometime preferred minimal design
rather than that of an android, the former:
which relies on underdetermined and implicit social cues that are given meaning
through interaction. Nobuyoshi et al. call this the “subtractive method”—removing
all but the most necessary communicative features to engage “the human drive to
relate to others.” (Šabanoviü 2010, 8)

If we were to redraw Mori’s ontological horizon in his diagram repro-

duced above with a more Heideggerian emphasis, one direction of the axis
of pathos might lead toward sympathy proper and the other end toward
repulsion, with sympathy having various narcissistic forms, including sym-
pathy toward animal companions and inanimate objects (especially those
that resemble humans and pets).
Such would be a spectrum of human affect that describes one of the
ways in which humans and other beings share a world. Android robots, as
well as other robots that rely upon human mimesis or similitude for their
functioning (such as Paro, the robotic seal used in nursing homes, among
other sites, in order to provide possible comfort to those living there who
are often very lonely and/or cognitively disabled), depend upon sympa-
thetic human affective identifications and projections in order to increase
their communicative use by human subjects. Our “Turing Test” of android
robotics would test the communicational and emotional relations born
from spectral appearances and their affective bonds. However, such a “test”
must also take into account the willingness of humans to immediately
work with or forgive the human “flaws” of such machines so as to consider
them useful. Whether usefulness is seen as the criteria for what constitutes
another human being, or another being more generally, depends upon
the social and cultural psychologies involved and the moral and ethical
assumptions of a culture. Many have argued that technological modernity,
and both capitalism and the bureaucratic state, increase the tendency to see
and treat others instrumentally. The step to a documentary understanding
The Document as the Subject 103

of otherness in some ways may, perhaps, increase this tendency, not only
through the understanding of others as evidence for some theoretical or
practical thesis and telos, but through the understanding of the self as
such, as well (at least in its public presentations). The charms of individual
uniqueness and quirkiness, charms that we all have not only because of
our strengths, but from the singular combinations of our strengths and
weaknesses, are difficult to replicate in not only designed systems, but also
through systems that depend upon standards of norms for the production
of expressions. While moral codes and bureaucratic and documentary sys-
tems may value consistency in appearance, experience and literature show
us that our emotions often sympathize with those who are just like us,
namely, less than consistent in the totality of our values and actions.
It may be that long-term, beneficial relationships with androids would
lead to the overcoming of the uncanny valley (MacDorman and Cowley
2006). The case of Paro (the robotic seal that has been tested in nursing
homes) shows how adults—in the absence of the affection of other people,
ill, and alone in an emotionally devoid world of demeaning simulacrum
and bureaucracy—can turn to inanimate objects as part-objects for express-
ing affection. (Indeed, fiction readers use stories and their characters as part-
objects, as well.) It is no coincidence, then, as leisure time and wealth have
risen and social fragmentation has increased in modernity, that domestic
animals have been admitted into companion status in family households
in “developed” countries (where, in the bourgeois world, affection is open
to its most intense display), and subsequently a greater sympathy with
these fellow beings has arisen among such people. As was said in the old
adage “custom seduces us all,” and here the custom is that of the adapta-
tion of personal needs to whatever affordances of Mitsein there may be in
our environments. Instrumental relations of all sorts take place in the prior
opening of Mitsein, which is the human ontological precondition to all rela-
tions and all emotional feelings, positive or negative. There is no ontologi-
cal predisposition toward a non-social human being; even being what we
call “non-social” is a mode of being with other people, vis-à-vis their rejec-
tion or absence. Ontologically speaking, humans are always already “in-
sympathy” with one another and with other beings, whether we are then,
ontically speaking, sympathetic or unsympathetic, loving or hating one
another or ourselves. Pathos—being concerned with one another and with
ourselves—is our way of being with one another and being with ourselves,
104 Chapter 5

as beings who are fundamentally Mitsein. Pathos befalls us by the fact of our
very mode of being existent.
While, like Sherry Turkle (2011), we might judge as morally degenerative
the use of these objects as substitutes for human affection, technology is in
some respects a tool for fulfilling all sorts of needs, which then may come
to support, reinforce, and extend those needs. While we may find human
attention and affection toward robots to be morally degenerative and infan-
tile, no doubt similar views may be held by persons from other cultures who
do not share our sense of domestic pets, for example, and they may wonder
why we raise some animals to eat and others to have as companions and
friends. The evolution of human psychological-technological transference
continues, though we are wise to mark the differences with the various “oth-
ers” involved for the important reason of not confusing both the extreme
uniqueness and the fragility of life in the universe with the narcissism of our
own instrumental needs. While higher order life forms, as all other beings
and objects, have served humans, like all life we are but fragile moments in
an otherwise inorganic vastness of the universe and even our own planet.
Humans have the ability to make cognitive, practical, and aesthetic judg-
ments and to be wrong with these (unlike machines, these judgments can-
not solely be accounted for by attributing them to others’ judgments and
actions, nor can our wrongness simply be viewed as incorrectness to rules for
actions). But, seemingly paradoxically, especially in the failure of the Turing
Test of human similitude, this too is what androids can show us.
With androids, and particularly with geminoids (robotic replicas of liv-
ing persons), our psychological projections are mediated and turned back
upon subject positions of the self. In order to interact with machines, we
must act like machines—often restricting our range of expression. Here, the
self is understood not only as a person (that is, as an individual of norma-
tive rules and roles), but moreover this person acts as a rather “stiff” person,
whose capacity for human action and judgment has been narrowed. This
is a continuation of the documentary dialectic that we have earlier seen
as an outcome of cultural self-inscriptions and social self-positionings in
documentary systems.
The dialectics of human self-constitution and the attribution of living
qualities to other beings (or their being devoid of such) arise from sympa-
thetic relationships to other beings that involve their being seen like the
self, as well as being seen like other persons. How strongly this self is seen
The Document as the Subject 105

as a hypothetical potential or as a person within social categories of rules

and roles seems to depend not only on the different cultural and social psy-
chologies that individuals inhabit, but also on the different personal beliefs
and experiences that an individual has.
Whatever the culture and society, however, the appearance of another
is important for personal formation and for communication. The nature of
those others, directly or indirectly, will condition the type of individual that
emerges and will affect his or her happiness or sadness in life. The other is
not a slave to me, even if it is a robot, but rather, my identity is enslaved
to him, her, or it, because I am, at core, a responsive and responsible being.
This core is expressed through my psychological index, which gives me my
abilities to act, think, and judge. This core is developed through experi-
ences and especially through experiences with other human beings. I am
not just similar to the other—I am the other—not in all their specificities,
but in terms of their affects. And so, it is important that I understand the
other who makes up who I am, or if that other is a robot, which I design or
is designed to be with me, as other.
But further, it remains to be determined how androids will give or take
away from the alterity or “Otherness” of who we are as human beings and
as conscious being more generally, and which unite us as people and as
conscious beings, and also gives us our singularity as the selves that we are.
For the other just doesn’t give me my person through giving me experi-
ences, but also gives me my self, the mystery of my life, through both their
lives and their deaths, which both proceed and come after me, as a radical
Otherness that haunts and composes each of ourselves and who each of us
is. This “test” would be too much for even what I have called an “android
Turing Test,” and so would leave androids to being something like a toy
or stuffed animal, rather than even a real one or a human being. For this
“Otherness” cannot be tested for, but rather it is a condition, literally given
to us by our being. Androids would remain then, what they are, always
an analogy, though like all analogies they could be incorporated into and
extend chains of symbolic substitutions.

The Dialects of Intersubjective Affect

The constitution of the self via others has been well known and recognized
throughout time. Konrad Lorenz gave the formal name of “imprinting”
106 Chapter 5

to the ability of another to shape the formation of the self in psychologi-

cal development. The dialectic of self and other was shown by Lorenz to
be based on a natural social bonding affect. As Hegel (1977) argued, self-
consciousness is constituted by its “becoming” through others.
Jacques Lacan argued that imprinting is performed in two stages. First,
through the mirror stage, dominated by the imaginary order, when the
young child is imprinted as a unified individual through his or her image
in a mirror (an “objective” image that therefore assumes an ego-ideal). And
second, later in life within the symbolic order, through which the other
and the self is constituted not by a narcissistic relationship to the image
or imagination, but by an Otherness of language, which precedes the indi-
vidual and gives him or her a subjectivity that goes beyond the narcissism
of the mirror image.
The importance of the mirror stage (Lacan 2006) lies in it being a dia-
lectically constituted identification of the self by an image that is both of
the self and not myself. The mirror stage involves not simply a repetition of
myself, but also the introjection of the other into self-consciousness in the
return of consciousness to its self via the other (though in the mirror stage,
At the heart of Lacan’s analysis of the mirror stage, as well as throughout
Lacan’s entire work, there is Hegel’s dialectic of consciousness (Hegel 1977):
My consciousness of the other, for example, as the other of myself which I
try to understand, and in trying to understand gives me also a view upon
myself that sees me as an object of another’s perspective, splits my identity
into two (self and personhood). Through the other, the self returns to its
consciousness as self-conscious. This is what Lacan called the “split” nature
of subjectivity. (Which, it might be added, also allows Lacan to reintroduce
alterity despite the dialectic of consciousness seeming to close it off, as both
the other person and myself are constituted and marked by language and
other alterities that precede and come after them. In other words, the par-
ticular concept of being that forms particular types of consciousness and
self-consciousness, is marked in its very composition, as a question, as the
mystery of, what type of being one is and can be).
As a developmental psychology, psychoanalysis views the earlier stages
of life as never being fully abandoned. The mirror stage is never fully left,
but instead, can form various projective relationships with the world. In
Lacan’s late work, the Borromean knot symbolizes the intertwining—and
The Document as the Subject 107

mutually supporting—role of the three orders (the real, imaginary, and

symbolic) in supporting the subject. The complete undoing of these knots
from one another can be found in psychotic patients.
As Lacan writes in his 1949 “The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Func-
tion,” the split identity of the subject is itself filled with “phantoms” that
make up its identity (Lacan 2006). In this way the ego (das Ich—the I) from
the mirror stage onward is haunted, not least by the spectral phantom of a
unified person that appears to me and which I fantasize as my own image.
Arguably, this is what a geminoid of myself could represent and which,
by analogy, would form part of the uncanniness of androids in general. It
would be an idealized me—idealized by a technological dream—but lacking
in almost all respects. (And so, perhaps even more forgivable, than if it was
a copy of someone else.)
Lacan discusses the process of identification in the mirror stage in the
quote below. The quote’s syntactical style (both in the original, and, sensi-
tive to this, in the English translation) rhetorically performs the dialectical
movements of identification that he is discussing:
For the total form of his body, by which the subject anticipates the maturation of his
power in a mirage, is given to him only as a gestalt, that is, in an exteriority in which,
to be sure, this form is more constitutive than constituted, but in which, above all,
it appears to him as the contour of his stature that freezes it and in a symmetry that
reverses it, in opposition to the turbulent movements with which the subject feels he
animates it. Through these two aspects of its appearance, this gestalt—whose power
should be considered linked to the species, though its motor style is as yet unrec-
ognizable—symbolizes the I’s mental permanence, at the same time as it prefigures
its alienating destination. This gestalt is also replete with the correspondences that
unite the I with the statue onto which man projects himself, the phantoms that
dominate him, and the automaton with which the world of his own making tends
to achieve fruition in an ambiguous relation. (Lacan 2006, 76–77)

Through the image of another who is both who I am and not who I am,
the mirror state prefigures the split subject that more fully occurs in the
symbolic order, in which the I is split not by an image, but by the affor-
dances of language; not by the other, but by the Other within and by which
both myself and others understand and express one another and ourselves.
It constitutes an ego-ideal of a different nature than in the mirror stage, one
that precedes my being but constitutes it, given by the parents first of all,
who form the subject’s first and most lasting voice of not only conscience,
but also consciousness. Whereas the ego-ideal of the mirror stage appears
108 Chapter 5

as attainable, that of the symbolic remains a mystery to the subject, lying

not in subjectivity per se, not in conceptual or documentary denotation,
but in linguistic and other expressive performances; not the referents of the
symbolic, but the fact of the symbolic itself as an event, including the traces
of the self as it temporally folds and unfolds.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, in order to approach being a similar
life form to humans, androids would at least have to gain both the imagina-
tion of a unified self and the alienation of a split subject in order to replicate
the developmental experience of a young child. But, the construction of
the I in such a form is a delicate affair in any subject’s experience, much less
a project for human design.
Phoebe Sengers (2002), for example, has argued that AI agents suffer
from a fragmented, “schizophrenic,” lack of narrative coherence. For Kant
in his Critique of Pure Reason it is the unity of apperception as an a priori
condition for any understanding that forms the coherence of the subject.
The continuity and unity of space, time, and causality in apperception are
the affordances for the continuous and complementary unification of per-
spectives and voices that constitute the expressive powers (or “language”)
of a normally maturing and mature self. However, for Lacan, in a more
Hegelian mode than Kant, of course, these a priori conditions only appear
from out of relationships with other subjects, who demand of the subject a
continuous voice and a point of view. In other words, the formal conditions
of apperception are a product of the subject’s historical experience with
other human beings and their demands for temporal, spatial, and logical
As is well known in studies of isolation, the self becomes disassembled
without another to which it is made reponsible. The other, here, appears
as a north star through which my own identity and expressions are struc-
tured with place, time, and direction, and whose expression then returns
to me as a presence that gives to not only others, but to me as well, a sense
of personal history and a certain feeling or hope of rationality, common
sense, and righteousness, whatever the real qualities of my expressions may
ultimately turn out to be. We diangulate or triangulate (if we include or
exclude from our accounts the cultural forms and social norms—i.e., the
logic—by which the dialectic occurs) our meaning and sense by means of
both the other’s expressions and categories and the other’s responses to
our utterances and actions. Without such cultural and social positioning
The Document as the Subject 109

existence takes the phenomenological form of dreams, or in waking life

the doubts of the neurotic or even worse, of multiple personalities or of
schizophrenic schisms—various voices and perspectives that train wreck in
a single utterance.
As in Freud’s works, Lacan’s works recognize an early developmental
narcissism as intrinsic, rather than pathological, and as necessary for the
formation of the I as a split, but also continuous subject. This narcissism
of desire through the imagination, as a projective catharsis, is necessary
for both the subject and the other to appear, and it is the prefiguration in
the subject of an alterity or Otherness that will inhabit and position the
self and others as consciousnesses capable of understanding and misun-
derstanding. And yet, with robots as with all readings of data expressions,
this very psychological basis for knowledge leads to what Ekbia (2008) calls
in the context of AI an “attribution fallacy”—namely, the attribution of
human personhood, and even human selfhood, to machines.
What prevents imaginative projection from being turned into an adult
form of unadulterated narcissism is the other’s resistance to it, at least at
the level of the autonomy of agency. This autonomy is in the form of pow-
ers that are not necessarily forced back upon the subject him- or herself,
but rather, a product of the other’s own expressive powers—“power” in the
form of generation or expression. The generative, and not necessarily the
repressive, powers of the other are what gives the other his or her resistance
to the narcissism that is the subject’s “needing to know” from the other its
own needs. And it is this resistance, in agreeable, hostile, careful, or con-
fused terms, that makes the other’s information to be knowledge for the
More specifically, it is the expressiveness of the other according to the
other’s own wishes and whims, the possession of his or her own time (and
not only needs) that checks the subject’s narcissism and is the cause for the
narcissist’s own frustrations and anxieties, whose desire races around to find
various easier sources for attention. This essential lack of full autonomy, this
lack of being aware of themselves as temporal beings for whom one’s time
is essentially each their own, is what robots most phenomenologically lack
and is in no small part why we lose respect for them as human equals and
why we find those who act like them to be somewhat odd or pathetic. When
we are forced to be with them, such robots (or people acting like such) are
present as instrumental means to ends, not as ends themselves. They appear
110 Chapter 5

to us as alien or (self-) alienated affects, or simply as tools. And for this rea-
son, as well, friends treating us in this way are eventually disdained.

The Ontological Constitution of Subjects and Objects

Both primary (intrinsic to the agent) and secondary (contextual) powers

or affordances work in reciprocal relation to one another in the constitu-
tion of beings and things as potential and actualized powers of expression.
Psychoanalysis is rich in expressing this through expressions that follow an
“inner” and “outer” topology: in notions such as repression and introjec-
tion, “outer” contents to the mind (secondary affordances) are conceptu-
alized as being internalized as “unconscious” powers of the self (primary
We could see situations of expression as composed of three types of pow-
ers of affordances: cultural, social, and physical. Things or objects proper
have only physical powers of affordance, and only in very determinate situ-
ations for their expression. (I avoid the term “material” here since cultural,
social, and physical powers each have their “material” dimension—that is,
they have affective force and resistance in relation to other powers and
bodies.) Primary affordances or powers are part of the agent, either biologi-
cally constituted or formed through experience and learning. Secondary
affordances or powers exist in the situational context of an expression and
allow and shape it. Acts can often be accounted for by attributing them
to primary or secondary causal powers, or most often to both to various
degrees. Learning creates primary powers as well as biologically inherent
properties of a body. In addition, intersubjective affective relations in situ-
ations constitute a “horizontal” input of forces that, too, may act upon an
agent; they traverse the subject, as the subject of expressive powers in a
situation (Day 2011).
The expressive powers of a being—made up its experiences and its per-
sonal skills (its expressive “toolbox” built from experience)—constitute
each individual as a unique singularity of expressive traits—a self. Just as
individuals develop into singular selves over time, with their own traits,
preferences, and powers, so do species, though with sometimes poorly
defined, but still real, sets of unique demonstrable powers. In short, the
ontological constitution of beings as sets of powers is evolutionary and
developmental, shaped and afforded by the powers of their environment
The Document as the Subject 111

and the pressures put upon and shaping the beings concerned. A funda-
mental ontology describes general ways of being for types of being; the
exact expressions that make this up are singular, though cultural forms,
social norms, and of course physical characteristics most of all (at least in
larger species) are remarkably resilient and slow to change.

Intentionality and Situations

The central ontological problem for robots as AI agents and how they relate
to human beings is how they are constituted as powers of expression. Such
a problem leads to the problem of intention, since intention is, generally,
the problem of the self-aware deployment of powers in a situation. It is thus
reasonable to ask what is the source of intentions, and whether robots can
exhibit intentions. Can robots intend to do things? Is “wanting” something
possible for robots? And, moreover, could we ask if a broader and even
“unconscious” form of wanting (in the broader, Lacanian psychoanalytical
sense of desire) is possible for a robot? Fulfilling these conditions would be
part of the affective Turing Test for an android.
In traditional AI, agency was constituted through formal design, but the
problem has been that of anticipating all possible situations for response
and expression and then making an agent that is flexible enough to gener-
ate new expressions in novel situations. Simply put, in place of experience
and evolution there has been the attempt to design agency as an a priori,
formal, document made up of logical statements. More recent works have
attempted to produce agents that learn (Ekbia 2008), but even when these
systems have been technically successful the question remains of whether
such machine activities constitute learning in the sense that we use this
term with human activities.
Japanese android creations, such as Professor Ishiguro’s Geminoid and
Geminoid-F, have been premised on mechanical design and a rather primi-
tive form of what we can call “communicative AI,” based on formally
designed mechanical movements, physical and verbal scripts, and some-
times human agents speaking telephonically through microphones in the
androids. More developed forms presumably would occur not exclusively
through programming, but through machine learning, where AI commu-
nicative patterns are recursively developed through the mass sampling of
real human expressions. Androids may play a particularly important role in
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their appearance as human beings, allowing human beings to interact with

them as naturally as they would with other human beings, thus increasing
the robots’ learning abilities.
Communicative AI can be seen from two aspects: robots “seducing”
human beings into feeling that human or humanlike communication is
occurring (which may then produce Ekbia’s (2008) “attribution fallacy”)
and robots learning through communication. This learning can both be
through physical movements (if the physical design affords such) and
through speech and other expressive acts.
If learning does occur and agency is shown as a result of this, then we
must ask if the robots or androids will be judged as acting as selves or per-
sons. For Karl F. MacDorman and Stephen J. Cowley (2006), personhood for
robots is established by their exhibiting three qualities: the agent’s ability to
construct its own identity, assume different roles, and discriminate in form-
ing friendship. As I have been using the term within a more narrow and
normative context, distinguishing it from the concept of the self, “person-
hood” involves the agent fitting into normative rules and roles for expres-
sion. The first and third of MacDorman and Cowley’s named qualities are
rather properties of what I have been calling, after Harré (1989), the “self”:
the hypothetical potentiality of a unique and singular agent of powers.
We often assert that such a self exists if the individual seems to show to
us intentionality—that is, if we posit a causality to actions beyond strictly
normative rules and roles so that the agent is assigned unique manners of
combining cultural forms and social norms in what we deem to be individu-
ality, choice, personality, style, and character. The self constitutes an appercep-
tive singularity beyond formal rules and roles, per se, and instead, is seen
as the point from which rules and roles are deployed. This deployment and
the reasons that the subject gives for such constitutes intentionality and
the explanation of intentions, and these are seen as signs of there being
a self. With robots, this may have to come about more by something like
machine learning than through formal programming. We still have much
to learn, however, about how rules and roles are combined and chosen by
singular selves as they develop, and how they are deployed, especially in
ambiguous situations.
Commonly, intentions are seen as being the “causes” of a subject’s
expressions. Finding such “causes,” however, can be not only difficult, but
also problematic, as can be seen in moral psychology or legal cases, for
The Document as the Subject 113

example, which seek to find the cause or reasons for an act. Normatively,
such causes are sought in norms or “rules” for particular acts. But the prob-
lem is: What secondary set of rules or judgments arbitrate the choices of
primary judgments, which result in publicly recognized acts? For example,
I have a choice of doing x, y, or z, and I choose to act in such a way that z
is done. What rule led me to make this choice? And, of course, was there
a rule in this choice or was the decision made out of sympathy or from
simply copying another’s actions (correctly or erroneously) or from a misin-
terpretation? Could these be called “rules”? At a certain point, as well, even
rule-based behavior becomes habitual. Do we then say that we “choose”
option z rather than x or y?
The problem with normative ethics in the sense of the above is that
norms are seen as part of a self. This is not a problem per se, since it simply
says the common sense notion that the self is a toolbox of available devices
used for doing tasks (including among those tools, rules of use). The prob-
lem occurs if we then say that this self then has another self (or set of tools)
to arbitrate what “tools” are used in a given situation. What then, we could
ask, arbitrates that choice? And so the regression of sets of rules for other
sets of rules could go on and on—reductio ad absurdum—if we see the self as
a purely formal construct.
We could reply to this last criticism by saying that there is only one tool-
box—the self as a focal point for singularly collected skills and tools—but
that the tools or skills exist not as sets of formal hierarchies, but rather, as
a sort of bricolage of potential, situationally deployed assets. The model
of mind then shifts from that of being a formal, hierarchical, model of
analytic code to a situational choosing of tools that may have multiple
dimensions of relation, including, but not limited to, analytical hierarchies,
in response to situational needs, which too may give tools for the subject’s
expressions. This corresponds to something closer to the model of users in
newer, more situational and mobile, information systems. Duplicating this
in an android form, and in a communicational situation, however, is chal-
lenging, of course.
One of the founding principles of psychoanalysis is that people are not
always “conscious” of the reasons for (or rules by) which they do things.
The explanation for this according to psychoanalytical theory is that some
reasons lie in an unconscious “region” (according to Freud’s topographic
model, at least) of the mind.
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We can, however, interpret intentions through a more Lacanian notion

of the unconscious, one that uses dialectic to view the subject and its inten-
tions (desires and needs) as a function of communication in situations,
rather than view intention as unidirectional “causes” for the subject’s expres-
sions. Such an explanation would also expand the notion of “intention”
from goal-oriented actions to more general classes of agent-powered actions.
Communication occurs in webs of relations, including the self’s own self-
conversations, as both vocally and subvocally (i.e., “thought”) performed.
Ancient Greek rhetoricians had a term for the need of persons to tailor
their remarks to a situation and an audience: kairós. Kairós was the moment
that the truth was revealed to the audience—that the audience became con-
vinced as to the true meaning of what the speaker was saying. In other
words, the audience and the speaker appear in the moment of kairós as
common identities in a “field” of meaning and potential communication.
At that moment, both believe that they can understand each other—that
something real was being pointed to by the speaker’s words. At the moment
of kairós the speaker gathers him or herself, together with the audience,
into a way of understanding a situation. Both the speech act and what is
being spoken of become evident in an event of truth.
Ancient rhetoricians understood something that has evaded more for-
malistic understandings of the mind. Namely, that minds don’t “begin”
from subjects, but rather, that subjects and their minds are situated as
expressions within webs of relational affordances that span across private
and public notions of individuals and across past, present, and potentially
future events. Even highly formal hierarchies of actions are situational. The
military demands that its soldiers act according to “orders” or explicit rules
and engineers are expected to build bridges according to bridge-engineer-
ing principles. But, even these rather strict and formal acts require that a
person or persons understanding a situation so that the acts can be cor-
rectly performed within and in accordance with situations.
Thus, the rules and norms that structure a subject’s acts come from both
situational affordances and “internal” norms; both may be measures of
“correct” acts, and so the “correct” act may well be a compromise that nei-
ther exactly corresponds to prior judgments and experience nor, perhaps,
to certain “objective” measures of a situation. Both the subject’s expres-
sive appearances and the object’s meanings are pulled into appearance by
the logic and language of the situation. In a kairós, the situation is for the
The Document as the Subject 115

subject(s), because both the subject(s) and the “contents” of the situation
have been historically assembled together, for all the subjects’ understand-
ings. The preacher and the believers reach the moment of kairós because
they believe together in what they see and have seen, speak, and have
heard, and these together—the seers and the seen—are the situation, and
they hold within such the subject(s) and their objects together.
But, is the kairós of the situation logical, and if not logical, at least rea-
sonable? Is this reasonableness achieved through correspondence with
rules and roles? In regard to robots, because one is still dealing largely with
programmed machines, the matter comes down to an issue of scripts that
inscribe both the subject and others within them. But, as mentioned previ-
ously, it is not only conformity to a script but also nonconformity to (or
individualization of) scripts, which we demand that other things show in
order to treat them as beings. This difference, which distinguishes subjects
from objects, this problem of rhythm and moods for expression, are put to
the test with androids on multiple (physical, verbal, cognitive) horizons,
which together form the problem of the affect of a near-living document—
its total affective information as it were. The move from formalized scripts
or documents to communicational documentarity, where speech acts in
communicational exchanges are used as documents for further speech acts
in communicational exchanges, is the mechanism of what I have been
calling “communicational AI,” and where, I would suggest, that android
appearances may make the most sense, at least in physically live contexts.

Performing Androids and Ethical Choice

One would think that theater would be an ideal place to understand how
humans and androids could interact in a scripted environment. In theater,
both are scripted. Indeed, in a twenty-minute play, Professor Hiroshi Ishigu-
ro’s Geminoid-F has played the role, sort of speaking, of a female android—
which it is, however (Guizzo, 2010). The popular press reported “her”
performance as “stiff,” with its human actress counterpart reportedly saying,
“There's a bit of distance. The robot has a quite particular position because
it’s got a voice, but it’s not some kind of human presence” (Oh 2010).
While scripted activities with robots may increase their abilities to be
interactive partners in task-based activities, and having an android “play”
an android is not any great dramatic feat (since that is what it is anyway),
116 Chapter 5

theatrical performances like this help show just how far even scripted per-
formances have to go in creating a symbiosis between android and humans
that might satisfy an android Turing Test.
Realist theatrical “performances” literally play between scripted narra-
tives and presented gestures, pulling the audience into narrated representa-
tions and “live” appeals simultaneously. The emotional appeal lies in both
a suspension of disbelief in the narrative and a belief in a performance of
live gestures. The actors and actresses make real a script by situating them-
selves between the script and the audience’s beliefs and feelings. This is the
appeal that gives the play its realism.
In theater, performances occur before the audience, in the mode of rep-
resentation. “Need” is performed, rather than had, for not only the audi-
ence but for the actors and actresses. But it is here that androids most fail
to appear as human.
Why? In terms of information androids fail to provide the fulfillment
of a need. What is that need in theater? That need is to answer to a call
of being an intentional agent, even within a script. The “acting” of the
actors and actresses consists in emphasizing by facial and other gestures the
undecidability of the acts in the play, even when we know in advance (as in
classical theater, from Aeschylus to Shakespeare) the probable destiny of the
main characters’ actions. It is precisely in this difference between script and
performance, between destiny and the human act that the audience feels
identifications with the actors and actresses and that the actors and actresses
can “connect” with one another. In other words, theater shows us that it
is our choices, despite our probable and necessary unfolding destinies (the
most certain being death), that make us beings, and most acutely, human
beings. This is what makes up tragedy and comedy. No machine, at least
today, could ever have these same destinies. And so compared to a great
actor or actress in a great role—who can bring out this difference between
what can and may or shall be and what is actually performed, in both the
difference between the script and the gestures and words, and between the
foreshadowing and the character’s present actions—the machine will fail
to be anything other than a documentary supplement, performing its own
supplementarity as a document within the very play of difference that is the
tragedy or comedy. What the play tells us is that however scripted we think
that we are or may be, what is at play is precisely the play itself, or life.
The Document as the Subject 117

Many judgments of AI agents are founded upon a narrow view of what

constitutes human performance or acting, in general. But the reading of
scripts in acting is not often seen as genuine acting, because acting is seen
as something more than the reading of scripts, as something more than
simply Darstellung. In the kairós of the gesture there is a positioning of one’s
own agency with others. This is the performance—onstage and offstage. It
is the making present of meaning within a relation of the self and others.
What is being referred to is not only what is referenced by the actor or
actress, but the difference between what they refer to and what the drama’s
entire unfolding refers to. This is the play of signification in drama that
gives the drama meaning.
In the same way, ethical acts lie not in the following of moral rules (i.e.,
the following of scripts or prescriptions—“do not lie,” etc.), but rather, in
the choosing of moral rules and roles in regard to situations. We do not
judge just the rightness or wrongness of ethical actions, but rather, the gen-
uineness of ethical (rather than moral) intent, based on values of good faith
and judgment and based on our experiences in similar situations (situations
that are not clearly decidable as to the wisdom and outcome of a choice
of an action). What is ethically most interesting is not the person who
chooses between good and bad, but between bad and worse, or where good
or bad outcomes are unclear for a choice of action. Drama shows us that
even the best of choices can result in terrible outcomes, and that sometimes
there are only terrible outcomes among which we must choose the best
option. And comedy shows us that even if we choose badly it may result in
favorable outcomes or at least entertaining ones. But in all these cases, the
most acute values of choice, and therefore of human (and probably other
higher animal) action, lies in the space between necessity and action, par-
ticularly within indeterminate situations. This indeterminateness gives to
human being the quality of radical temporality, choice and what is some-
times referred to in the Western cultural tradition as “free will.” With a
single action, the future—and our retrospective understanding of the past
and who we are in the present—may change. For human beings their own
senses of time originate from their actions in or out of such crucial kairós
or situations. Time may “drag on” or “pass rapidly” within a situation and
a situation may restructure the everyday pace of time “passing.” Psycho-
logical time is not physical time, and so the gulf between the “life” of the
118 Chapter 5

experientially formed agent and the programmed one that doesn’t experi-
ence time as its own is huge.
It is the ethical choices in drama that rivet us. It is not a measure of
simple correctness, but of human fallibility and human choosing (and the
choices that other higher order animals make, too, which also give them
individual characteristics); of finite and unclear agency and of free will, and
of life or “time” as it emerges out of these singular experiences. One has a
genuine life, one is a person of qualities, only where, at least on occasion,
the making of choices is both clear and unclear; one must act, but there is
no guarantee of a favorable outcome. But on the other hand, this lack of
guarantee is only there because of the necessity of having to act, and thus,
having to choose.

Documents as Fulfilling a Need

We often speak of documents as fulfilling a need, but as we have seen in

the preceding chapters, needs are structured by documents within social
and political economies of need. Perhaps more as supplements, than as
attempts to overcome the “uncanny valley” in all aspects of human dupli-
cation, android robots can assume a possible place on the ontological
horizon of human experience. However, the very likeness of androids to
humans sometimes disrupts such supplementarity.
As can be seen in the case of Paro, the robotic seal, in the setting of
nursing homes, certain human agents, either because of cognitive deficien-
cies or because of emotional needs and situational limits upon satisfying
those needs, are drawn toward such objects, and taken as beings, for the
fulfillment of their needs. In such an environment Paro takes its place with
much of the rest of the domestic animal kingdom, which has unknowingly
constituted themselves, in part, as what psychoanalysis calls “part-objects”
to human beings. Part-objects capture subjects in terms of needs and they
act as metonymical substitutes for the needed object as a whole. What
is important here is that while a deficient whole may elicit fear (i.e., the
uncanny valley), the part, when scripted into a need, may be taken up with-
out hesitation as a tool. This is true whether we are referring to stuffed ani-
mals, artificial limbs, or anything else taken to various extents as tools that
help fulfill needs. Scripts may be symbolic or physical actions that define
the object’s information for a need in a way that mediates between the vast
The Document as the Subject 119

discrepancy between machine and personal agency. Like the “training” of

domestic pets, both the “owner” and the “pet” need to be trained together.
They are scripted together so as to reduce the uncanny valley. They express
themselves together through common affordances and interactions, like
documents and users.
But this also tells us something very important about the documentary
positioning of human beings, as well. Humans and other higher forms of
life are valued for the indeterminacy and the choices that they make. There
may be ethical choices expressed through the partial or total functions of
information systems (e.g., human-controlled drone attacks), but these do
not take place in the systems themselves, but somewhere along the chain
of production involving their design and use by human beings. Choices
between scripts are perhaps not reducible to scripts. As has been argued,
there seems to be an essence of indetermination to each individual, a singu-
larity of experience, relations to the world, and expressions that may require
documentary information but are not themselves reducible to documen-
tary information. And conversely, data and documents may not always tell
us a lot about the values of a person. Despite the predilection to reduce all
knowledge and art to “information” (Heidegger 1977b), and today to data
representation, such a reduction does very little to address what literature
and art express as knowledge. As I have suggested, it is because literature
and art, as well as human beings, express the tensions between what is and
what may or shall be.
Critiques, such as Sherry Turkle’s (2011), fit within a long tradition of
warning us about the dangers of being seduced by artificial agents; a seduc-
tion at the cost of ignoring or reducing the value of those beings that have a
living agency, who “push back” against the narcissism of needs by the pow-
ers of their chosen expressions. “Robotic animals” and “robotic humans”—
in the sense of both robots and androids proper, and restrictively trained and
self-trained animals and humans—tend to work well with human agents in
instrumental or task-based systems because of two aspects: first, the robots
can be designed to fulfill set needs, and second, humans compensate for
the limited expressions of robots by adapting to them. Only more recently
have machines come to approach the flexibility of human agents in more
complex and adaptive tasks. Turkle’s concern seems to be that human adap-
tation to machine design fulfills needs in a narcissistic manner, since the
machines are designed to fulfill needs without “push back” and humans
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adapt to machine systems in ways that then limit their experiences with
other people. While it is the case that human beings who treat other animals
well often tend to treat human beings well, history and experience show
us that the contrary may be the case as well—that those tender affections
extended to the easily submissive or “domestic” human and/or nonhuman
animals or to those that win our affections by their very loyalty or mere
appearance may lead to hatred or sadism when encountering the real world
of other human beings with different or contrary customs or opinions than
our own. Turkle’s (2011) fear is that humans will be captured in technologi-
cal systems that are imaginative reductions; images, objects, and altogether
screens for consciousness that have been designed to fulfill personal needs
without challenging those needs in terms of not only the needs, but also
more importantly, the singular being, of others. Thus, human existence as
mediated by technical systems will result in the narrowing of human beings
as singular individual and group potentialities by algorithms of known pos-
sibilities. This is a documentary fear that extends back to Plato’s complaints
about writing in his Phaedrus, but has been given a stronger technological
and a broader sociological power by modern documentary systems.
That one could be seduced by the very part-objects that one takes as
meaningful, however, should not be surprising. In regard to other animals,
the ability of these other animals to appear or act like human infants, as
well as fit within human communicative patterns, is often taken by people
as the key characteristic for their being treated more humanely, rather than
their being taken as some form of “dumb” (both intellectually stupid and
unable to speak) animals and in various ways being seen as “ready-to-hand”
(Heidegger 1962) and what we could call, “ready-to-eat.” (The transition
from being placed in the latter to being placed in the former categories
has saved some members of animal species and even the species itself from
extinction—in our own time, witness the fate of the dolphin in Western
countries, now further protected by “dolphin-safe fishing” campaigns.) As
well, the lack of such feelings has formerly relegated other human beings
to being “dumb animals” (i.e., slaves, enemies, lower subordinates) in rela-
tion to those who rule. Whatever the basis for the communicative illusion
of complete understanding (whether it takes place between humans and
other animals or, for Lacan, between the human sexes in what he ironically
refers to as méconnaissance), nonetheless we see everyday that pragmatic
and satisfactory communication leading to good-enough understanding
The Document as the Subject 121

and respect for the otherness of the other can result in the greater sharing
of physical space and to the emotive bonds of human care.
But because we are such communicational animals within our own “spe-
cies-being” (Marx) and because we have mastered the representation of the
entire earth so well, we tend to view communication in terms of that which
is like us or not, until proven otherwise. The AI and android “attribution
fallacies” (Ekbia 2008) are cases where we may see the seductive qualities
that our own fantasies have upon us when projected onto another that is
not another being, but an object.
All these examples read upon the “other” a communicative evidence
which allows them to be seen as a human or rational part of the universe:
in our thought of them as part of our communicative circuit they become
evidence of something more than they were before and so they may be
spared some of their previous historical or other cultural fates as slaves to
our whims and/or, in the case of other animals (though sometimes human
beings as well in some cultures), meals on our table.
If, like in the use of Paro, the goal is increased communication and dis-
played affectivity in a context where its lack is harmful to persons, then
androids may lose ethical objections attributed to their use. Pathological
attachments to them become just one more pathological attachment, not
so different than with any other part-object. We read into their thinghood
the being that we wish to see as their expressed content; in other words, we
read them in terms of their use to us, their user.
All this is to say that these part-objects inhabit ontological places within
the human political economies of value and use in which they are placed.
What type of “being” that they will be for people depends on how their
thinghood is read, which does depend upon design of course, but largely
depends upon their belonging within economies of need so that they may
be seen as useful things. The transgression that really concerns Turkle (2011)
seems to be that of passing from a respect economy (other beings “push
back” and “demand respect” in terms of their autonomy) to an instrumen-
tal economy (where beings are understood as “mere tools” or things) via
our increasing technological mediation with the world, and the forgetting
of this transgression in a social regime of instrumental relationships. As we
have been charting throughout the modern documentary tradition, this is
the taking of beings for things and things for being in the service of infor-
mation needs by a user.
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If we did want to design machines to really pass an android Turing Test,

then we would have to try and design machines that don’t mimic norma-
tive (that is to say, “rational”) actions, but rather, what is specific to humans,
so-called irrational actions: choices being made and justified when it isn’t
clear what the outcome of an action is or what constitutes a best choice;
irrational behavior where rational judgment is thrown out the window;
neuroses. Not actions devoid of logic, but devoid of a normative sense of
rationality or reason; actions born, as it were, of intuition and even faith.
The singularity of beings still poses an enigma to be conquered by infor-
mation system design. This will be the topic of my final two chapters:
how “big data” attempts to comprehend the singularity of human beings
and what this means for governance, intellectual freedom, and the West’s
Enlightenment tradition of critique.
6 Governing Expression: Social Big Data and Neoliberalism

In the last chapter, I presented a picture of individual human beings (and

also other beings to various extents) as made up of unique and singular
personal “toolboxes” of potential “powers” or skills of expressions. These
powers are derived through the unique experiences that each individual
has and their ways of understanding. To begin this chapter, I would like
to contrast this view with the concept of persons as labor commodities in
markets regulated by exchange value (Marx 1977), where these very issues
of quality are translated into quantitative measures in order to assure the
ability of labor and products to be measured in complex markets of com-
modity exchange. (Where the equality of items x and y are further mediated
by the abstract entity of z, namely money, as the foundational concept
of capital.) For such exchanges, money represents not only the means for
exchange, but it represents, not least through the societal-wide extension
of concepts like “the market,” the expansion of commodity exchange value
to life as a whole. In the first part of this chapter I would like to investigate
neoliberalism’s informational reformation of the “spirit” of personal and
social psychology, or what in psychoanalysis is called “the drive.”
As is well known, for Marx this system of quantification ultimately rep-
resented the abstraction of all human creative and expressive activities in
that system (known as capitalism) of abstract exchange and commodifica-
tion mediated by money, and it represented as well the subsumption of
human beings (and other beings) in their individuality and sociality as hav-
ing the “bottom line” value of being either direct or indirect producers
and consumers in the capitalist market. For Marx, for this reason value in
capitalism was not determined solely by the exchange of labor for the wage,
but rather, was a product of “social labor” (Marx 1865/1969)—in other
words, it was the product of the work of the social whole in the support and
124 Chapter 6

valorization of capitalism through paid and unpaid labor, as well as con-

sumption. For capitalism, the entire life sphere is reducible to the logic of
commodities in exchange, starting with the initial dialectical exchange of
life quality into monetary quantity as mediated by the concept of money as
a chief concept of value. Dialectically then, as well, quantity in capitalism
(money) becomes a qualitative measure by the same yardstick (in funda-
mental notions of value in a capitalist society, such as being wealthy, being
poor, being successful, being unsuccessful—all measured by amounts of
money or monetary goods accumulated or had by an individual or group).
While, of course, quantity of money is not the only source of pride and
power in even a capitalist society, in a capitalist society with money comes
power, and so too the pride that finds power as its raison d'être.
“The market” (and its logic, or “invisible hand”) as both an abstract cul-
tural notion and as concrete manners of exchange, thus remains largely
untheorized in the discourse of everyday life, since it functions as the ideo-
logical norm and the infrastructure of our lives in capitalism. In modern
capitalism, we have increasingly seen the mediation of life values into capi-
talist values take more and more abstract forms, not only in the processes
of market exchanges, but even prior to such in human understanding and
For example, as was discussed earlier, today it is common to abstract
one’s self in order to put one’s self “out there” on the Internet. One creates
an “online identity” toward creating a “brand” for one’s self, which may be
exchanged for some other commodities (including other persons as such, as
the logic of markets permeates through all human relationships—love, mar-
riage, labor, etc., through contractual and customary legal arrangements).
While the market in liberalism regulated goods and labor, in neoliberalism
it regulates identity and an identity’s expressions in almost every area of
one’s life sphere, because each area is seen as contributing to forming the
competitive individual in the overall labor “marketplace.”
The “entrepreneurial spirit” is celebrated in neoliberalism as the Geist of
the entire life sphere, and it is increasingly becoming a necessity with the
end of work (or more specifically, the end of employment) that is being seen
in developed economies across the world. Within a scarcity environment
(produced by wealth consolidation and technological advances) and the dis-
mantling of the welfare state and the absence of a livable social wage, other
values can’t exist without this “bottom line” of market identification, which
Governing Expression 125

subsumes human life (and other animal and plant lives, and even the eco-
system of the planet itself) at every stage and in every corner. However ini-
tially disruptive, digital technologies, like other new technologies, become
increasingly adapted and exponentially empowering of the economy that
pulls upon them as the “strange attractors” in their development and inno-
vation. In the neoliberal economy, the subject must locate him- or herself,
both technically and socially, within norms for predictability, which then
feed back and reshape the subject’s future expressions in public spaces.
And yet, as we have noted, the dialectic between the subject and docu-
ments within social information systems is, historically speaking, progressive:
innovation is necessary in expressions for reasons of both the reproduction
of the overall system of production and for the reassessment of lesser val-
ues (leading up to, if possible, their maximal capitalization, redesign, and
redeployment in new circumstances, etc.). Dialectical relationships are not
just logical and systemic, but also historical; evolution occurs. As Michel
Foucault (2008) stressed in his work on neoliberalism, contemporary neo-
liberalism, unlike earlier market liberalism, is not just a celebration of the
functions of markets, but rather, neoliberalism stresses competition as the
means for the social value of markets. Neoliberal ideology asserts that mar-
kets innovate by means of competition, but it also asserts that markets fos-
ter social progress by doing such. Social progress for neoliberalism involves
“freeing” individuals from “welfare states,” that is, from prior forms of
collective action and risk management, so that they can compete against
one another. Like capitalism as a whole, neoliberalism is cheered as both a
revolutionary and an evolutionary force that breaks up static economic and
cultural blocks. Competition is seen as resulting in the most innovative and
the least costly goods and in maximizing individual expression.
Thus, contemporary neoliberalism has offered a certain type of resolu-
tion to the problem of having both the Enlightenment demand for human
freedom and the notion of capitalism and its reality of money as the orga-
nizing concept and the mediating logic for society and culture. Neoliberal
policy and ideology has done this by rolling back the institutions of the
modern bourgeois public sphere other than those institutions that are
involved with commercial enterprise and the promotion of such. The reso-
lution of both concrete freedom and abstract labor (and being) in capitalism
involves the commoditization of the total life-sphere in terms of capital-
ism and its values (e.g., money, the marketplace, competition) and its logic
126 Chapter 6

(e.g., exchange value, commodification of persons and things). Public space

is “freed” and in its place “the market” is said to regain its natural status
as the fundamental condition of human being. And so in neoliberalism,
the fundamental ontology of the individual is seen as that of the freely
competing subject in the marketplace, with this last term spread out across
and permeating all areas of life. Within contemporary neoliberalism, all
institutions and forces of the neoliberal state—family, educational, cultural,
social, and foremost political—must be oriented in this direction for the
maximum good and fundamental freeing and salvation of individuals and
society as a whole. From another point of view, though, this demand and
its utopia may be read as resulting in a totalitarian economic state, in that
all institutions and forces are read according to this “bottom line” value.
As authors in the Italian autonomist movements have argued for the
past fifty and more years, this “total subsumption” of capital upon the
life-sphere has been accomplished through “material” and “immaterial”
means.1 According to these authors, capital in late capitalism and neoliber-
alism has attempted to progressively colonize the entire life-sphere. Resis-
tance, they argue, comes through the “reserves” to capital that remain as
the social and intellectual foundation from which capital draws, including
through “immaterial labor” using digital means. Gradually during moder-
nity, such theorists have argued, life itself has been taken as a target for cap-
italist subsumption, through the cooptation of communication, sexual and
familial relationships (Fortunati 1995), education, and every other sphere
of human activity, with economic exchange and survival as the ultimate
justification for all relationships. (Yet, interestingly, certain work practices
remain as unpaid or poorly paid labor, not the least of those being labor in
the home and in education. See Fortunati 1995.)
Capital’s “apparatus of capture” has become increasingly efficient and
broad in its appropriation of selves as subjects of its political economy
through the combination of appropriating governmental functions such as:
buying off political actors and agencies, cutting public funding to modern-
ist institutions and infrastructures, redefining the agenda of education and
other cultural institutions toward capitalist values, owning and narrowing
the focus of the media, forcing family structures and individuals to adapt
to scarcity economies, and using government police and surveillance forces
and economic pressures to crush resistance. In short, it is said that neoliber-
alism has advanced by the totalitarian institutionalization of national and
Governing Expression 127

international capitalism, one nation after another, using domestic means

to force compliance in domestic markets and using international pressures
(economic, military, cultural) to do the same to other countries, cultures,
and peoples.
The commodity form through which the subject enters the market place
is not just through his or her “immaterial” labor, but through the appear-
ance of one’s self as unified semantic forms (i.e., as documents), within
marketplaces. One presents images of one’s self through social networks,
one’s romantic past is ranked and chatted about in social networks, one’s
recommendations are seen online, one’s friends are known, one’s life is
valued through credit histories and the like, and if one teaches in academe
then one’s publications and teaching can be accessed and ranked online, as
well. Social network databases are linked to and sold as the hosting corpora-
tion’s property.
Today, these contribute to the documentary codes or “keys” that give
one access and powers to institutional and social affordances, expressions,
relationships, rights, and possibilities for wealth and happiness. In our
present day, these “keys” that give one the privileges of other “keys”—
other “doors” or opportunities—are remembered through social-technical
information and communication systems that are sometimes interrelated
through shared data, indexes, and search capabilities; one doesn’t simply
“have documents,” increasingly a person is a set of varieties of documents,
which constitute codes and passwords for powers of being and expression.
Thus, the problem that individuals have today is that of not only manag-
ing, but of trying to prefigure their documentary codes in digital market-
places, many of which have automated indexing systems that formally or
socially prescreen both subjects and objects for documentary systems.
These economic and social commodity valuations of individuals as
subjects and objects within advanced capitalist societies do not appear or
function simply by symbol manipulations via algorithms. If this were the
case, then these tokens would not have sense as social and cultural values,
as well. Instead, these algorithmic manipulations must take place within,
complement, and reinforce larger political economies of exchange of which
they are a part. While there are certainly other economies functioning
within the domain of those technologies and social relationships known as
“the Internet,” the capitalist economy and that of neoliberalism remains a
driver of much of the popular use of the Internet and remains the “invisible
128 Chapter 6

hand” which overall attempts to drive its development both as a medium

and as a set of infrastructural software and hardware technologies. None-
theless, the “gathering up” or sublimation of qualitative being, work, affects, and
relationships into quantitative, algorithmic, devices often proves insufficient for
addressing the ontological values of the former, whether this concerns friendship,
understanding, or any other relationship that “takes time.”


The problem of producing consistent representations across broad and vari-

ous scales and across time ranges is a preoccupation of not just personal
representation on the Internet, but in a different manner and concern, of
information construction in the natural sciences as well. Paul N. Edwards
(2010) has wonderfully shown the extent to which global climate science
must rely on modeling, which involves not only the “cleansing” of text
into data, but the “smoothing” out of aberrant data as well as the smooth-
ing out of differences within and between different data types. The goal of
climate science modeling is not only to show and compare past and present
behaviors of the climate, but also to suggest possible future behaviors, and
modeling is particularly important in cases such as climate science where
experimentation is not possible or experimentation has only local values in
terms of its subsequent evidential claims.
Epistemic problems regarding modeling in the social sciences can be
more complex than with natural phenomena because models in the social
sciences include within themselves the “mental models” that people and
researchers have of themselves and of other people and their behaviors.
Here, “smoothing” is not only performed by researchers in their reconcili-
ation, modeling, and visualization of data, but by the subjects upon other
subjects and upon themselves in their expressions and their identity forma-
tions. These choices both by researchers and by the subjects themselves
may then further influence research, leading to reinforcing and self-rein-
forcing assumptions for research and research results.
The sociotechnical (self-)modeling of individuals and their (self-)posi-
tioning within political economies constitutes much of the state and
commercial governance and construction of the subject in modernity. As
a product of modern governance techniques, the modeling of the subject
by bureaucratic and actuarial institutions and techniques reaches back to
Governing Expression 129

the eighteenth century and then continues not only through the state
apparatus, but also through commercial sales and marketing. As JoAnne
Yates (1989) has shown, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries inven-
tory assessment and sales reports gradually became managerial and pre-
dictive tools. These translated and eventually did away with narratives in
sales reports, replacing narrative with numerical information and data that
played the role of not only describing and reporting, but also predicting
and shaping the needs of shop owners and consumers. Scientific manage-
ment in modernity has brought together producers and consumers within
just-in-time production and predictive marketing. Increasingly, the goal of a
producer has been to systematize the entire production-consumption cycle.
As is well known, the rise of American empirical sociology evolved in
part during the 1930s as a form of market and public opinion research in
order to better predict and control consumer behavior. As the Keynesian
consumptive- rather than production-driven economy took hold during
the Great Depression and after, consumers had to be not only surveyed for
desires and needs, but these desires and needs also needed to be shaped
in order to be fulfilled within the limits of commodity production and its
productive and distributive limits. Knowledge expressions were viewed
by empirical sociologists as products of individual choices within a range
of possible expressions as shown on surveys. Expression became under-
stood as commodity choices, “free speech” being the equivalent of what
people would choose to spend their money on within a range of options.
This economy of “free speech” continues in the U.S. legal tradition, most
recently with Supreme Court cases (Citizens United v. Federal Election Com-
mission, 2010; McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, 2014) having to
do with campaign contributions being treated as first amendment issues of
free speech, except in this case—as consistent with the industrial economy
and consumer economics more generally—the wealthy create the com-
modities (politicians, political parties, and political issues) which the popu-
lace then chooses from.

Mass and Crowd Psychology

As Ulus Baker (Baker 2001) argued, the ancient Greek notions of episteme
and doxa are collapsed within a modern notion of opinion. The modern
notion of opinion is not a product of argumentative, Socratic dialectic, but
130 Chapter 6

rather, it is that of an expression that fits within an aesthetics of opinions.

One chooses an opinion out of a series of possible expressions as offered by
broadly construed “information system,” rather than arrives at an opinion
through the rigor of argument or as a product of technical knowledge. In
turn, such a notion of opinion comes to shape people’s expressions, not
least when the difference between knowledge and opinion collapses. Opin-
ion becomes a choice of options within a market of delivered or retrievable
goods. To “have” an opinion is to know something, foremost that of know-
ing something that others know something about or are curious about, and
to know one’s likes and dislikes in regard to such. In modernity, having an
opinion is having or thinking that one has knowledge, which is related to
being able to be informed about something and informing others about
such; it fits within and is valued within systems of information exchange.
It is often said that newer technologies have surpassed the limits of
modern production; that the consumer now drives production and that
trends now measure real individual expressions rather than force individual
expression within averages. It is assumed that we have advanced from a
“mass” to a “crowd” psychology through social computing.
But from another perspective, the transition from early twentieth-cen-
tury mass psychology to more contemporary crowd psychology may be
seen dialectically. Whereas modern mass psychology and totalitarian poli-
tics subsumed individuals in a collective identity around the imago of the
state or a leader as symbol of the state, crowd psychology involves taking
alternating turns in leading, but still in a generally agreed upon direction.
The singular is subsumed within the logic of the subject within the unfold-
ing of an idea or concept, largely not as one disciplined by some other or
others, but rather leading the idea to its fulfillment him- or herself. The
subject is subjugated in mass psychology, but self-subsumed in crowd psy-
chology as a participant and leader in a trend. This shift in the psychologi-
cal and sociological conception of the individual, from the ideal of Western
“existentialist” individualism to the “belonging” and teamwork of group
psychology, is aided by the market pressures of neoliberal ideologies which
demand individuality and innovative expressions but within the terms of
market segments and social networks. Here, the self seeks external checks
and balances in producing and consuming and being trained for such, see-
ing these not as repressions to freedom, but rather, as affordances for freedom;
not devices for the repression of personal powers, but codes for the possibility of
Governing Expression 131

expression and social and career advancement. Education and acculturation

become more permeated by goals and objectives, by correct and incorrect
measures for teaching and for learning, for knowledge and ignorance, as
compared to the previous existential model of psychology. Moral psychol-
ogy, as well as individual knowledge and social affects, becomes permeated
by neoliberal concerns for the self.
The “interiorization” (or what psychoanalysis calls the “introjection”) of mar-
ket norms into the self and person of individuals as a priori affordances and
powers is what allows for neoliberal individualism and freedom and is what
defines rational action today. The understanding of the self in terms of its pow-
ers for expressions in and by markets, rather than as powers outside of, prior to,
and beyond markets, is what characterizes the socially adjusted, cultured, and
educated contemporary individual. Through digital technology, such an indi-
vidual fits within communicative networks that, directly or indirectly, lead
to greater market production (whether those acts of production are imme-
diately or later seen as profit making, for the producer or for others who are
Ideological constraints for expression, communication, and identity are
introjected into the self as “opportunities” for expression, communication,
and identity. In post-Fordist production, for example, the worker who was
subjugated within the disciplinary regime of the “vertical organization”
(e.g., of the factory or the office space) has been, since the 1980s, “freed”
within “flat structures” and “teams” and left to be more self-regulated at the
workplace and in home offices. The logic of “the market” becomes intro-
jected as the logic of the subject, not in its external interpellation or calling
to the subject, but rather in the subject calling him- or herself as a voice of
conscience (these are my friends; this is what makes me happy; this is my job;
this is to whom I belong; this is my identity, my opportunity, my way of connect-
ing with others; each event, each being and person, becomes declared with
these demonstrative pronouns, as a statement, as evidence, as a document,
as a naming and an inclusion and exclusion in relation to the world at large
in relation to the I).
These post-Fordist rules and roles are passed down through cultural and
repressive “apparatuses” (Althusser 2001) and means. The penalties for the
lack of such rules in the raising of children, for example, are severe in a
neoliberal economy that lacks a safety net and that has massive judicial and
penitentiary systems and breeds the resentment of the middle class toward
132 Chapter 6

anyone that it sees as “not following the rules.” Lacking such maturity, the
child and then adult of those not in the ruling and leisure class may be
severely disciplined by the marketplace and the courts until they “mature”
or are simply marginalized outside of social and political existence. Today,
ego ideals of motherhood and fatherhood, and for the children ego ideals
of fear and guilt, run rampant across the media and in school, as signifiers
of potential and potential failure or worse. The neoliberal screws have been
pressed, extending to the destruction of childhood and the infantilizing
of adulthood in anxieties for approval and success. “Excellence” must be,
indeed, its own standard and reward, because it is the imaginary Über-Ich of
neoliberal subsumption.

Social Big Data and Governmentality

Seen from the context of the modern documentary tradition, what are the
norms that social big data imposes upon judgment—or what may be seen
as the documentary emptying out of judgment—and how does such relate
to what was known in the Enlightenment as freedom? This question is not
just a contemporary one that has suddenly appeared, but one which has
evolved alongside of and has intertwined with the neoliberal construction
of subjectivity in modernity, not only with the statistical positioning of
the subject within a market, but now, as a more predictive targeting and
training of the subject, as one that is surveyed, tracked, and “targeted” as
both an individual and as a member of a group, as both a producer and a
consumer, as a citizen and as a non-citizen. No longer is the surveillance of
the individual enough, but now he or she is co-located within predictive
matrixes of actions and objects through linked associations with other sub-
jects, objects, and events in databases and their indexes. Through this the
subject is both disciplined by and afforded power.
The increased accuracy (or believed accuracy) of increased surveillance
and feedback targeting through the collection of social big data and its
analyses and social and political uses (ranging from drone predators to
state surveillance in both democratic and communist/authoritarian gov-
ernments to consumer targeting—for example, the targeting done by Tar-
get Corporation, as described in a 2012 New York Times article [Duhigg
2012])—belong to a conjoined mechanism of cybernetic and neoliberal
governmentality, which crosses governmental and corporate databases
Governing Expression 133

and organizations. Social big data seeks to demarcate trends, which then
directly or indirectly act as norms, which further consolidate individual
and group action within market-determined norms (Rouvroy 2013). Peo-
ple are forced into competition, into a “freedom” that is monitored and
checked within systems of feedback control. As Norbert Weiner suggested
in the Cold War period (Wiener 1954, 1961), communicative control can be
used toward a discourse of “rationality”; a rationality that is seen as proper
to a given political economy. The documentary indexing of the subject
provides the codes for the subject’s social positioning and expressions by
others and by itself. Thanks to networked, mobile devices, the subject can
attempt to continuously propose him- or herself to the world as the subject
of documentary representation.
The dominance of digital mediation for the overall social positioning
and expressions of the subject gives rise to a regime of digital governance,
which in its most textually reductive form follows the representations of
data science. This science of data “facts” subsumes the former role of infor-
mation and before that documentation. What distinguishes data science
from information science and documentation as techniques of governance
is the role of data modeling and the role that conjoined databases and
regimes of data play in establishing empirical reality by simulacra. Such
simulacra are the expressions of joined documentary subjects and objects as
measured by variable parameters of political economy. As Antoinette Rou-
vroy writes:
Data, information, knowledge are thus more or less taken to be the same things.
Such “knowledge” thus does not appear as a “production of the mind,” with all
the artificiality and cognitive and emotional biases unavoidably connoting mental
productions, but as always already “given”, immanent to the (digitally recorded)
world, in which it is merely automatically “discovered”, or from which it literally
flourishes thanks to algorithmic operations rendering invisible correlations opera-
tional…. Knowledge is not produced about the world anymore, but from the digital
world. A kind of knowledge that is not tested-by nor testing the world it describes
and emanates from: algorithmic reality is formed inside the digital reality without
any direct contact with the world it is aimed at representing. Rather than the valid-
ity of its predictive models, it is its operationality, its plasticity, its contribution to
the “fluidification” of economic and social life (and thus of capitalism), its efficiency
in sparing human agents time and efforts in the interpretation and evaluation of
persons and events of the world that characterize the “intelligence” of “big data.”
(Rouvroy 2013, 147)
134 Chapter 6

What distinguishes the rhetoric and epistemology of social big data from
the uses of data before it? Rouvroy (2013) argues, first, that what is involved
is the seeming transcendence of the need for not only judgment and inter-
pretation, but also the need for empirical testing. (Indeed it is sometimes,
strikingly, asserted by proponents of big data that hypotheses and “theory”
emerge from the data, as if no discourse or concepts guided the tools of data
gathering and interpretation—in other words, that big data not only brings
about a state of pure positivist representation, but it does so beyond the
need for scientific methods or for theory.2) There is a trust that the valida-
tion of models comes from other models, rather than from either empirical
testing or from discursive consensus or historical interpretation, even when
such are available. At the same time, the claims for knowledge are presented
as immediate—“factual”—rather than as emergent through technologies,
techniques, and methods, on the one hand, and interpreted through the-
ory or a priori concepts, on the other hand.3 The data says …; the data shows
us…; we are only interested in data [not justifications/excuses/your opinion/your
experience]…; big data and its mining and visualizations gives us a macroscopic
view to see the world anew now—these and similar phrases and tropes now fill
the air with what is claimed to be a new form of knowledge and a new tool
for governance that are superior to all others, past and present.

Social Big Data as Variable and Parametric Indexes

It is sometimes argued that the power of social big data collection and anal-
ysis lies most in predicting trends within which subjects are captured. One
of the most distinguishing aspect of the state and commercial uses of social
big data is they often involve a variable and parametric index that constantly
monitors and surveys subjects and objects and their relationships in time.
The indexes of social positioning are in this way “floating”; the measuring
devices adjust to the relationships and their expressions, as well as can be
shifted in order to show different perspectives.
This historical quality gives to social big data its quality of appearing to
show and follow trends in the expressions of the spirit of an individual in
his or her age, society, and culture. This historical quality, however, doesn’t
necessarily simply come from the data, but it can also come from indirect
ideological and direct surveillance feedback mechanisms acting upon enti-
ties. The surveillance is done at the level of individuals, who are monitored
Governing Expression 135

and whose actions are predicted throughout key moments of their con-
sumption or production, marking changes in trends and phase states, and
recalculating the trajectory of entities according to these new parameters
and relationships.
The individuals that are under surveillance may have various degrees of
anonymity at first—the social, political, or institutional systems that track
them have no real interest in them as singular selves other than as means
to further increases and security in their own powers. Their status as selves
is valuable only in so far as they are understood as calculable tendencies
and nodes in networks, as threats or allies or sources of profit. Governing
them takes the form of both limiting and affording choices toward what
may be considered to be “productive” or useful expressions. The system
attempts to predict and create needs and the fulfillment of needs, whether
for potential shopping (Duhigg 2012), voting (Issenberg 2012), or any other
intention. Rather than statistics being used to create the picture of an aver-
aged individual, statistics are used to track individuals and aggregate them
into predictions for behaviors for both singular individuals and groups, and
in relation to objects.
The issue of governing the subject is that of the shaping of the will
through information and communicative technologies so that it appears
as rational expressions—as autonomous, yet as being part of group norms.
Control is governance—creating markets of powers and expressions that
come to constitute the expressions and identities of individuals and groups.
At an ideological and metaphysical level, individual needs and their fulfill-
ment gives evidence of “free choice” and the natural ontology of markets and
empirical entities and relationships. Toward this, neoliberalist governance
works to afford the possibility of needs and fulfillment before the subject’s
actions. It does this through promoting and trimming cultural forms and
social norms, relying on the control of taste, opinion, and reason as formal
parameters for prejudgment and therefore controlling the affordances for
actions. If there are needs that aren’t fulfilled or can’t be filled, then they
aren’t needs, and are just the noise of malcontents, lunatics, or past ages.
The neoliberal documentary society is a society governed by means of collec-
tively managed self-adaptation, afforded by documentary mediation. The indi-
vidual is to serve and to save him- or herself through abundantly available
and ubiquitous sociotechnical systems—automated calling trees, health
care management systems, individual retirement account management,
136 Chapter 6

constant network connection through mobile devices, endless university

diplomas and continual education, unbounded and endless work, online
friendships, political participation in established parties, police-regulated
protests, and so forth. Unlike the welfare state, the individuals are not aver-
aged, but are given his or her “free will,” one that is governed generally,
though if necessary, concretely, point by point, by varieties of social con-
straints, interventions, and affordances, working as hidden and inaccessible
strange attractors and surveillance and targeting systems. The documentary
systems must be able to scan, identify, and predict general movements and
particular expressions over time, and must be able to exert through feed-
back, and through their very shadow of real or imagined presences, control
upon the subject. One is tracked as sets of relations and expressions that
give to the subject specific possibilities for actions and identity. The function of
neoliberal markets and documentary systems together as a mode of gover-
nance is to turn the singularity and potentiality of selves and texts into indi-
vidual and recognizable expressions by means of diachronic and synchronic
surveillance and control. Governance using documentary systems must turn
the potential into the possible, and so fit the person within logical systems of
The subject’s “will” is increasingly shaped through informational and, in
the sense of information theory, communicational, devices, networks, con-
nections, and recognizable ends and goals. Google documentary indexes
and analytics progress neatly to Google car because they both involve
shaping the will—or what in psychoanalysis is called “the drive” (Trieb)—
by communication networks. Whereas previously cars were advertised as
extensions of the (traditionally symbolized, masculine) drive, soon the
drive will be the product of informational and communicative relation-
ships. Space becomes place, will becomes needs; drive is mapped out and
visualized as intents and possibilities of communicative and information
channels and their coded affordances for entrance, driving, and exiting.
Physical maps are graphic displays of place points; the drive occurs between
starting points and destination points, needs and possible objects. Once
spaces become places, once places are documented by physical coordinates,
then destinations and starting points can be linked by means of possible
routes and—increasingly, especially when constantly updated via sensors
and user feedback—as predictable and updatable times of travel. These
coordinates can then be given names or other identifying symbols through
Governing Expression 137

the intermediaries of gazetteers or other documentary indexes and so can

take on social and cultural, historical and political, values, as well.
In social big data we are not just documentary subjects, not just doc-
umentary objects, but rather we are the two conjoined with each other
as parametrically viewed historical expressions. This is to say that practi-
cally speaking, politically and socially, we are, and don’t just participate
as, these conjoined subjects and objects. Today, we are drivers between
places in certain types of vehicles on crowded roads with time limits and
expectations, not just persons “out for a drive” as used to be said; we are
consumers of commodities with commodity needs and brands, not just
users of things; we are students becoming trained in something, not just
persons interested in experiencing or even becoming knowledgeable; we
are “moms” and “tiger moms,” with enormous social and personal role
expectations and ideal narratives placed upon adults and children. Social
big data conjoins subjects and subjects and subjects and objects with each
other according to algorithms of need (Thomas 2012). They help fulfill our
needs and they extend my needs. Our places, searches, expressions, and
actions more generally are indexed, and then these indexes are re-injected
back into social and documentary systems, which readjust themselves for
further predictable expressions. And today, we are products of not even
whole documents, as they were once known, but rather of documentary
fragments and representations—“information”—in communication with
each other and in communication with ourselves. Ultimately, we are medi-
ated by sociotechnical documentary indexes that index each of us to per-
formances within political economies, as evidence or not of the idea (and
therefore value) of being for those systems, and then this evidence assures
codes for further possibilities of performances and being. Like stocks, our
“future performances” are not guaranteed, and so both market and state
surveillance are necessary for the system as a whole to have the full faith
and credit of both the governors and the governed.

Reading “Big Information”

In this chapter I have been discussing social big data as constituting a form
of documentary governmentality. Data, as Antoinette Rouvroy (2013)
argues, is often understood as an auto-affective entity that, like earlier uses
of “information” and “knowledge,” is understood as self-evident facts. In
138 Chapter 6

big data, machine algorithms process and index data relationships, often
over time. Out of such relationships, the documentary expressions of sub-
jects and objects are seen to emerge.
As we saw in the beginning of this book, the discourse on the necessity
of information processing for information overload goes at least as far back
as the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth, and one response
to it was Paul Otlet’s description of skimming as the privileged mode of
reading. Today, as well, skimming is a manner of cognitively “processing”
texts by looking for knowledge patterns and meanings that correspond to
the subject’s information needs.
To end this chapter, then, I would like to move back from “big data”
per se, and discuss what we might call “big information,” by which I mean
encounters with large sets of documents and the act of reading as skim-
ming that we bring to this. As I will argue in this final section, the political
economy of neoliberalism—gathering within it a cultural understanding of
modernity as efficiency in production—comes to bear upon the nature of
reading, time, and, as we will return to in the conclusion of this book, upon
the possibility or impossibility of critique. Beginning with documentation
theory and practice in the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the
twentieth centuries and continuing into today, in the modern documentary
tradition the subject’s practice of reading becomes increasingly instrumen-
tal, surveying texts and persons (and beings more generally) toward their
ability to answer the subject’s information needs in efficient and timely
manners. Thus, as we saw discussed earlier in this book in the passage from
Paul Otlet, reading changes from being a hermeneutic activity of “close”
and “critical reading” to being an instrumental activity of skimming. Infor-
mation retrieval and other documentary techniques, technologies, and
methods are utilized to help make skimming possible and to increase the
relevancy of the document sets to the subject’s information needs. The
skills of using documentary techniques, technologies, and methods, and of
skimming materials toward answering information needs are often called
today “information literacy” skills. The contexts for information literacy
skills are generally productivist and, particularly, task-oriented, but may be
for entertainment and leisure ends as well.
The extension of information literacy to practices of reading is an extension of
the notion of information to texts. “Information literacy” as a broad concept
in regard to readings and texts is thus a sociotechnical practice of reading
Governing Expression 139

via the use of modern documentary techniques and technologies toward

the answering of information needs, which as I have argued, are prefigured
by both ideological and technical documentary devices and parameters.
Nathaniel F. Enright has written on the confluence of information lit-
eracy and neoliberalism in the context of higher education reform “whose
major purpose is the functional training of the labor force in line with
the needs of capital” (Enright 2013). Understanding information literacy
from the aspect of browsing and skimming information toward the goal of
increasing one’s market value (or as the economist Gary Becker might put
it, increasing one’s “human capital”), Enright writes:
The argument that I wish to finally advance here is not only that the information
literate is the neoliberal subject par excellence but is also structured around the notion
of human as homo economicus. Indeed, in all of the policy [i.e., Australian education
policy, which Enright analyzes] the information literate is always conceptualized as
a rational, self-interested individual who can recognize “the need for information”
and continually “re-evaluates the nature and extent of the information need.” It
really is as if [Gary] Becker’s calculation that “all human behavior can be viewed as
involving participants who maximize their utility from a stable set of preferences
and accumulate an optimal amount of information and other inputs in a variety of
markets” has come to pass. (Enright 2013, 32–33)

Katherine Hayles’s discussion of “hyper” or “surface” reading in her

recent book, How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis
(Hayles 2012), is one resource in which to examine reading as a practice
of information literacy. As of this writing, Hayles is a professor and direc-
tor of graduate studies in literature at Duke University, and a well-known
and respected scholar in humanities readings of contemporary information
and communication technologies. In her book Hayles argues for new meth-
ods and techniques of reading, particularly in student instruction and in
research in the humanities. She discusses what she terms “hyper reading”
and “machine reading,” specifically against the background of the tradition
of “close reading” in the humanities, and especially there in academic Eng-
lish departments. Referring to John Guillory’s work on archival research,
Hayles stresses the role of “scanning” and “skimming” in “hyper reading”:
As a strategic response to an information-intensive environment, hyper reading is
not without precedent. John Guillory, in “How Scholars Read” (2008), notes that
“the fact of quantity is an intractable empirical given that must be managed by a de-
termined method if analysis or interpretation is to be undertaken.” He is not talking
here about digital reading but about archival research that requires a scholar to move
140 Chapter 6

through a great deal of material quickly to find the relevant texts or passages. He
identifies two techniques in particular, scanning (looking for a particular keyword,
image, or other textual feature) and skimming (trying to get the gist quickly). He
also mentions the book wheel, a physical device invented in the Renaissance to cope
with the information explosion when the number of books increased exponentially
with the advent of print. Resembling a five-foot-high wheel, the book wheel held
several books on different shelves and could be spun around to make different texts
accessible, in a predigital print version of hyper reading. (Hayles 2012, 61–62)

Hayles’s (2012) claims regarding “hyper reading” may remind us of

Otlet’s claim that we discussed at the beginning of the book, namely, that
we have entered a new age of reading texts and people: skimming. Hayles
claims that hyper reading and computer-aided indexes and other digitally
mediated tools for quantitative humanities work are necessary tools for
addressing massive amounts of information, and that such tools are needed
given what she claims are students’ impatience with close reading.
Despite the use of scientific nomenclature, such as “methods” and “tech-
niques,” when describing reading and writing in the humanities, rhetorical
approaches tend to be rather heterogeneous. Browsing, scanning, and skim-
ming were always done in various stages of humanities research, though
especially in the early stages. The difference, compared with Hayles’s argu-
ment, is that they were never valorized as being reading itself or taken as
being the main source for the value of humanities research. Why then this
reversal of values for what were, previously, seen as preliminary acts to a
“deeper” sense of reading?
As we have discussed, one reason is the claim that the student is faced
with problems of information overload. This leads to information literacy-
like claims for methods, techniques, and technologies that might help the
student find and evaluate information for information needs. The second
reason, however, has to do with Hayles’s claims that students and the Eng-
lish profession are tired of “close reading.” The purpose of her chapter and
book are to advocate for something after this.
According to Hayles, close reading has become a unifying method for
approaching texts generally in English departments (2012, 57–59). She par-
ticularly focuses upon one of what she calls the “dominant” techniques of
“close reading,” namely, “symptomatic reading,” which she traces to, for
example, Frederic Jameson’s ideological critique of textual production: “For
Jameson, with his motto ‘Always historicize,’ the text is an alibi for subtex-
tual ideological formations” (Hayles 2012, 59). For Hayles, the technique of
Governing Expression 141

“symptomatic reading” has outlived its usefulness: “After more than two
decades of symptomatic reading, however, many literary scholars are not
finding it a productive practice, perhaps because (like many deconstructive
readings) its results have begun to seem formulaic, leading to predictable
conclusions rather than compelling insights” (Hayles 2012, 59). Returning
to a special issue of the New Historicism journal Representations in 2009
(“The Way We Read Now”) Hayles concludes:
In a paraphrase of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s famous remark, “We are tired
of trees,” the Representations special issue may be summarized as, “We are tired of
symptomatic reading.” The issue’s contributors are not the only ones who feel this
way. In panel after panel at the conference sponsored by the National Humanities
Center in spring 2010 entitled “The State and Stakes of Literary Studies,” presenters
expressed similar views and urged a variety of other reading modes, including “sur-
face reading,” in which the text is examined not for hidden clues, but its overt mes-
sages; reading aimed at appreciation and articulation of the text’s aesthetic value;
and a variety of other reading strategies focusing on affect, pleasure, and cultural
value. (Hayles 2012, 59)

While “close reading” in some senses has roots in English departments

and New Criticism, “symptomatic readings” are much broader in origin.
“Symptomatic reading” is sort of a pejorative code word in literary studies
for broadly understood, “deconstructive” readings, including shared Marx-
ist oriented engagements, which attempt to outline the “ideologemes”
(Jameson 1982) that are circulated and reproduced in textual expressions.
The notion of “symptom” here is related to deconstruction’s appropriation
of it from psychoanalysis, as the notion of an irreducible sign that is worked
out in the unfolding of the text by forces both beyond, and functioning
within, the text proper—and whose trace is often relegated to marginal sta-
tus or is dismissed in the expression of the text’s “information” or content
proper (its “presence”). Deconstruction as a type of reading is an unwrap-
ping of the play of forces and power that produce a text’s “content,” “mean-
ing,” or what we may call its “information.”
“Symptomatic readings” are sometimes taken as part of a “hermeneutics
of suspicion,” in so far as they start from the assumption that the mean-
ing of texts is not self-generated and that the task of scholarly reading is
to try and understand how meaning is produced in a text and what the
function of texts are in different contexts of reading. Textual meaning is
a symptom of reading, and reading is a hermeneutic and socioculturally
constructed activity. The content or information of a text is a product of
142 Chapter 6

the stabilization of the meaning of signifiers by other signifiers, and so

there is not a definitive “outside” to the text, just as there is not a defini-
tive “inside” or content within the text prior to reading. Meaning is not
auto-affectively produced, but instead, its evidentiality or “information” is
due to plays of forces and systems of stabilization that the author attempts
to control, but which, by definition, exceed the control of the author. The
common thread in this “hermeneutics of suspicion” (commonly said to
reach back to Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx) is the problem of Kant’s criti-
cal philosophy, namely, that of trying to account for the production and
reproduction of “presences” and their repetition or “representations.” How
is the “empirical,” that is, what appears to be existent, brought into the
understanding? How does a stable meaning in a text appear to readers and
what in and outside of a text proper must be privileged and suppressed in
order to get this meaning to appear and be conveyed to the reader in a clear
and distinct manner?
In sum, English department “close readings” and “symptomatic read-
ings” have their origin in functionalist-social accounts of the production
of meaning and understanding and the appearance of subjects and objects
as the products or the “content” of social, cultural, and political forces
operating in texts and beyond. These reading practices are part of a criti-
cal tradition reaching back to Kant’s critical philosophy and its Enlighten-
ment context. And it is for this reason that what in the 1970s and 1980s
was known as “theory” (i.e., “critical theory,” broadly understood) crossed
many different disciplines (including English), and it is also for this reason
that contemporary English department research now extends to many non-
literary textual research projects. The notion of the text is not just literary,
nor can it be confined to documents. All texts are rhetorical products and
so utilize various devices for persuasion, some of which may be more used
in literature, though not exclusively. In sum, “deep reading” (i.e., critique)
can hardly be said to have originated or to have ended in Anglo-American
English departments in the twentieth and now the twenty-first centuries.
Hayles’s (2012) account of student and professional “tiredness” with
reading texts as material and social production, and her valorization of
skimming, pleasure reading, and “cultural value,” could be read as a politi-
cally conservative celebration of a return to cultural values and literacy-skills
education in English and other humanities departments. (New Criticism
was a reaction to earlier historical research and literature appreciation in
Governing Expression 143

English departments.) And though it is clearly not Hayles’s intent in her

text (2012), the cultural rejection of close and critical readings and a cel-
ebration of aesthetic pleasure and beauty in its place could remind one
of the celebrations of aestheticism in German and Italian fascism during
the early twentieth century, when critical formalism and the works of the
avant-garde were rejected and suppressed in light of what was supposed to
be popular cultural pleasures and beautiful form.
It is, perhaps, understandable that theory may have become “tiring”
when the original theoretical texts (and the sources that they critique and
comment on) have ceased being closely read themselves and instead have
been substituted for by informational handbooks, introductions, “idiot
guides,” and other documentary reductions and abstractions, which serve
as interpretative devices for “critical methods” in analyzing the mainstays
of the English department canon (literary period and genre studies). It isn’t
surprising that the very texts that descriptively and prescriptively demand
a time of reading have passed out of popularity because of the overall politi-
cal economy of time within which they have been inserted, namely an
economy of time where they are seen (as per Otlet) as consumptive of, or
simply a waste of, time, other than in a summary form that reduces them
to tools of “method” for more canonical production.
In short, Hayles’s (2012) celebration of aestheticism and skimming and
her criticism of critique could be read as a celebration of the values of a
political culture of documentary representation and production, particu-
larly in an age of ubiquitous digital devices and mobile entertainment,
where critical work takes time from what could be otherwise be spent in
more entertaining or productive manners for students. What it criticizes is
reading as an activity that draws the reader in toward changing the notion
and experience of time in a production- and entertainment-oriented world.
From a certain perspective, it criticizes literature (broadly understood as
texts qua hermeneutic inscriptions), and it valorizes whatever writing forms
appear as documents (that is, texts qua topics or “aboutness” which corre-
spond to likely information needs). From this perspective, it is somewhat
paradoxical and puzzling that even as Hayles celebrates recent tools for the
documentary treatment of texts, she then finds the products of tools for the
documentary treatment of theoretical texts to be tiring and predictable. In
short, as Suzanne Briet (2006) suggested happens with new technologies,
Hayles’s celebration of new digital technologies of reading seems to be a
144 Chapter 6

celebration of the new social rhythms introduced by these technologies;

the celebration of an attention economy and “multitasking,” introduced
by the ubiquitous presence of digital mediation and entertainment into
everyday life, along with the pressures of neoliberalism.
What we seem to have then in Hayles’s celebration of “surface” or
“hyper” reading is a celebration of ideological reproduction and a positive
endorsement of the text’s role in this through representation, as a source for
confirming the self’s own social and cultural inscriptions through the indi-
vidual’s experience of aesthetic harmony or pleasure. It is a celebration of
the subject’s recognition in the texts of the subject’s own tastes and needs.
It stands in distinction to critical theory’s attempt to understand the forces
that create taste and need, and indeed, that lead to subjectivity. “Surface” or
“hyper” reading is a reading through representational mediation.
In contrast, it may be suggested that an aesthetics of representation—
whether such occurs in the media, or in reading as skimming, or with clas-
sification, metadata, and visualization techniques, or even in the practices
of science as a posteriori method—needs critical theory and deep reading;
not as a modern sense of information, but as counter-information. Criti-
cal theory intervenes in our customs of thought and practices, in our use
of representations, in order to raise issues about power, production, repre-
sentation, judgment, justice, and the direction of society and culture gen-
erally. Critical theory provides a necessary and critical contrary—a deep
reading—to the surface readings that we routinely do in our everyday lives.
One deploys critical theory not in order to reproduce the already popular
ideological order, but in order to engage and try to understand, and if nec-
essary critique, it.
7 Conclusion: The Modern Documentary Tradition and the
Site and Time of Critique

I return here to our final discussion in the previous chapter on the topic
of contemporary documentary mediated reading, which, as we saw in the
very beginning of this book, was valorized in the tradition of European
documentation by Paul Otlet at the start of the twentieth century. The
imperative for the modern tradition of critical theory and later readings of
“symptoms” did not originate in English departments or in any academic
specialization, but from Enlightenment thought. In library science, the tra-
dition that emanates from this imperative is called “intellectual freedom,”
that is, freedom of access to expressions and a person’s rights to free expres-
sions, which are seen as intrinsic rights of human beings as communica-
tive and mentally complex beings. Hayles (2012) may be correct that many
faculty and students in English departments are tired of formulaic critical
methods as applied to literary and other texts in the field. Nevertheless, cri-
tique of a priori assumptions (and of a posteriori applications of conceptual
assumptions) in method and technique is an often marginalized and miss-
ing element of scientific and scholarly research and writing, and as well in
ordinary practical activities. The formal modes of scientific rhetoric in pub-
lication and presentation often excludes critical a priori analyses. This may
lead researchers to believe that further research along given founding con-
ceptual assumptions is actually investigating real phenomena or produc-
ing fruitful research, whereas the research is merely showing taxonomically
and methodologically operationalized impositions of a priori assumptions
upon empirically designated research subjects and objects. And likewise in
everyday life, as it was once common to say, custom seduces us all, and so
hides the social and cultural devices and powers that make up the ordinary
expressions and understandings of our lives and interactions.
146 Chapter 7

The modern university as it has appeared in the West and as it has

spread throughout the rest of the world may be traced back to Wilhelm
von Humboldt’s vision for the University of Berlin, founded in 1810, which
saw education as made up of technical innovation and critique, both being
necessary in service to the state. The modern technocratic university since
World War II has more and more marginalized critique, first from the sci-
ences and more recently from many areas of the humanities where it has
been replaced by a return to values education and skills training, both
within the context of a privatization in funding and a greater consumerist
and job training orientation in universities. Indeed, throughout the univer-
sity and throughout contemporary society, critique has often been replaced
by information, opinion, and scientific method. But, more data and more
techniques and method can’t by themselves solve the problem of poor or
unseen conceptual foundations, nor do such “mores” address ideological
and economic curbs upon what type of information and communication
are practically allowed both in teaching and research.
The concept of critique doesn’t originate in postmodernism or any other
contemporary movement or cultural genre. Kant’s famous three critiques
in the spheres of cognitive knowledge, practical knowledge (“moral” knowl-
edge in eighteenth-century parlance), and taste are part of a larger argu-
ment against both metaphysical and empirical dogmatisms, and they are
part of a larger project of Enlightenment thought which can be glimpsed in
Kant’s well-known publication of December 1784 in the journal, Berlinische
Monatsschrift, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” (Kant
2009). In this article, critique is viewed as necessary for social progress and
is seen as an intrinsic right and property of being human. Human beings
have a right to intervene in the political economy and times in which they
find themselves living. Complex and innovative expressions, and therefore
“thought,” are a right granted by their very types of existence. And their
existence is one where the meaning of time is a concern and an opportu-
nity for social and personal reinvention; it is not just a given. In Kant’s
text (2009), enlightenment is an event, both personally and socially. The
demand for it is an intrinsic property of human existence, which each per-
son carries within him or herself.
Skimming allows for a turning away from the challenge of the text or the
other person toward the self. One skims for what one already more or less
knows, for what one is expecting. The documentary friend is consulted, and
Conclusion 147

responses are browsed to answer the questioner’s information needs, which

themselves are often tied to production and entertainment markets of sell-
ing and buying labor, information, and other goods. As a practice of read-
ing, skimming is a product of an age that demands increased production
by students and by faculty within an economy of both overproduction and
competition for scarce monetary and temporal resources, a personal and
professional life made up of extremes of competition and diversion, and
the increasing replacements of human beings by computer and computer-
aided devices. Texts that are picked up, read-to-hand, and easily incorpo-
rated within social and professional productivity and everyday learning
and entertainment are valorized and, in turn, written and published.
Today, it sometimes seems that reading books wastes too much time and
so they are marked into fragments by indexes and they come to be made
up of articles by different authors. Keywords are used to find parts of texts
and the texts or these parts are gathered into “infographic” representations.
Articles waste too much time, and so are abstracted and summarized and
their results charted. These waste too much time and so we read web “long
journalism” and short fragments of web articles. These waste too much
time, and so we inform and communicate through commentary fragments
and “like” indicators on Facebook. These waste too much time and so we
use Twitter. These waste too much time, and so we simply photograph our
experiences and post them on Instagram or the like. The documentary uni-
verse enlarges, the attention economy becomes shorter and shorter, and the
demands of reading become less and less.
Despite broader information and communication capabilities, political
and everyday life has become in some manners more narcissistic, not less,
than before the Internet. We seek what we more or less already know, we
ignore one another by staying glued to our devices, and we make and break
relationships by the mediation of algorithms and indexes. Where chil-
dren of the 1960s wished that they could take their televisions with them
everywhere, including to school, now we can. Here one sees the sometimes
familiar outlines of the paradox of the psychopathology of modern tech-
nological information and communication technologies: new technolo-
gies are invented to overcome the fragmentation and alienation of modern
capitalist life and then end up in some ways increasing this fragmentation
and alienation in the most essential areas of life.
148 Chapter 7

It is often forgotten that the practice of book indexing became more

common, particularly within Anglo-American books, only in the mid-
twentieth century. As Paul Otlet’s works suggest, indexing and other such
documentary techniques that have turned into broad sociotechnical medi-
ations are products of a political economy of rapid technologies and limited
time and attention.1
The modern documentary age, made up of documentation, information
science, and data and their sciences, is an age that valorizes these “informa-
tion types” as a type of human or machine ready-to-hand knowledge. Their
representational qualities “save time” and condense intellectual space. Psy-
chologically, they intensify the modern experience of time in moods such
as anxiety and boredom (Heidegger 1962); boredom is dreaded and anxiety
is fetishized in information overload, overstimulation, multitasking, and
eventually, consequential mental exhaustion and collapse (Berardi 2001) as
a sign of commitment and maturity to productive institutions and to the
preservation of the self. Anxiety is further created through entertainment
and recreational devices so as to create a modicum of challenge in response
to the relatively uncontrollable anxieties stemming from unbearable eco-
nomic and corrupt political systems and an apocalyptic environmental
reality. Like the mastery of wish fulfillment in dreams, and like the uses of
earlier media such as film (Benjamin 1968), capital orients both techno-
logical innovation and self-development toward those devices and abilities
that promise the virtual conquering of the rhythms and violence of reality
through their simulacra. Video games allow children to master simulated
traumas, rather than address real personal, social, and planetary problems
collectively. They largely reproduce the bourgeois sense of personal crisis
and the need to individually conquer such, rather than addressing the need
for collective action. Though parents scream and yell about their children
being on video games, the games are perfect mirrors of their own anxieties
and methods of control and expression, most being equally fanciful and
equally useless against the larger issues that determine lives.
The contemporary sense of time in moods is fixated upon objects of
seeming production and entertainment so that the moods (and time) disap-
pear in obsessive-compulsive narcissistic drives and distal devices. A sense
of community and being based on an experience of being and time as fini-
tude is lost in a sense of community as endless production, pointless tri-
umphs, and the need to always produce more of these. Death, and with
Conclusion 149

this, life itself has become simply an item of information, to be consumed

and produced, and so, in our age of economic and ecological collapse, in
Walter Benjamin’s words that end his famous essay, “The Work of Art in the
Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936): “[human being’s] self-alienation
has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an
aesthetic pleasure of the first order” (Benjamin 1968, 242).
We exist online in virtual worlds of endless handshakes and endless
tasks, the panacea to our wanting to be together but being unwilling or
unable to, and to the fragmented and disjoined residues of loves, friends,
and texts. We experience both the desire for others and the melancholy
of non-fulfillment, documented. Our games give us a mastery of fantas-
tic universes, while the crumbling of ourselves, our friends, our society,
and the relatively (geologically speaking) recent ecology of the planet itself
remain the real challenges that we feel powerless to address and often even
acknowledge or recognize. We text and email our neighbors, lovers, and
coworkers sitting next door or across the room from us. We play games,
text, and answer emails as others surround and talk to us, and we hang on
our mobile phones. We assume that large-scale data and its analytics will
solve the environmental and social problems of our too-large consumption
and will manage the scale of our outpaced production by yet more pro-
duction. We train the young to become information technologists for the
very types of technologies that are putting them out of work and creating
permanent un- and underemployment and the “end of work.” In short, we
trust new forms of information and knowledge technologies to solve the
very problems of our lives that they cannot or that they sometimes lead to.
By means of documentary abstraction and their technological-social
manipulations as heuristics of social, economic, and psychological assump-
tions, documentation and its offspring, as Suzanne Briet (1951) wrote,
represent and lead the way in a modernity characterized by rhythms of
“efficiency” and a dream of endless production. As Antoinette Rouvroy writes
in reflecting upon her own article: “Formulated as an inquiry about the
state of knowledge, power and subjects after the computational turn, it
turns out as a reformulation of the question of the possibility of critique,
recalcitrance and subjectivation in an epistemic and political universe grad-
ually deserted by empirical experiment and deductive, causal logic, and
with regard to a mode of government appearing to disregard the reflexive
and discursive capabilities (as well as their ‘moral capabilities’) of human
150 Chapter 7

agents, in favor of the computational, pre-emptive, context- and behavior-

sensitive management of risks and opportunities” (Rouvroy 2013, 144).
Against recalcitrance, reflection, hesitancy, and silence, the ideology of
the modern documentary age gives us products, production, efficiency,
and the attention economy; against poetic techne it gives us the techno-
logically completed and reproduced; against problematics, questions, and
judgments it promises the certitude of documents, information, and data
as exact answers; against lived experience it poses accumulated data and a
posteriori method and technologically mediated facts and entertainment;
against performances it poses representations (but in the appearance of
being auto-affective presences or “facts”); against one’s own solicitude and
concern for others as the fellow being that one is, it poses others as “infor-
mation resources” for one’s own advancement in political economy and
its institutions; against the responsibility of personal judgment it poses the
preemption of judgment by computationally and other technologically/
technically mediated results; against critical thought and situational judg-
ment it poses the aesthetics of formulaic reasoning and pronouncements
and, indeed, entertainment; against literature it poses documentary “facts”
through documentation, information, data, and their sciences; against sin-
gular education it poses mass instruction; and against language, dialogue,
and the performance of inscription it poses standards of clarity and cer-
tainty within privileged economies of representation. In short, as I pointed
out in my earlier book (Day 2001), the ideology and rhetoric of the age of
the modern documentary tradition (“the information age” and its society)
promises cheery days for all, if we would just accept the information pres-
ent and future that we are told is true and not look beyond or outside of
As Heidegger argued, however, the culture of “efficiency” and “produc-
tiveness” in technological modernity has the psychological affect of sup-
pressing the experience of finitude as a central concern of human beings
with time. It masks the foundational ontological relationships of Mitsein
that relate each Dasein to one another and to other beings. It does this
by exploiting fundamental manners of being human and directing these
toward production and profit. (While so much human value has been and is
being produced by free labor on the Internet, there is no social mechanism,
such as a social wage, to reward this and to continue it, and instead, as usual
in capitalism, the owners of capital profit from human beings’ fundamental
Conclusion 151

concern with one another and increase their profits by using and reusing
human concern for capital concerns, being and beings for profit.)
In Otlet and Briet’s works—as in the history of the science of documenta-
tion, information, and data in the twentieth century and now the twenty-
first—little critical reflection upon information or documentation as a
cultural, social, or political symptom occurs; this is not only because both
Otlet and Briet were professional advocates of documentation, but intrinsi-
cally because such a “symptomatic” reading is at odds with our modern
understandings of documentation, information, and now data as privi-
leged, and indeed sometimes, as the only form, of knowledge and experi-
ence, and so as the governing mediator for understanding and actions. In
such an episteme, at least when it expands to having a total reach upon
society and our life-spheres, critique finds it difficult to gain a foothold for
reevaluating normative values or raising other values, not least that of non-
instrumental values for being and being with one another.
We could say that it is not the technologies “themselves” that are the
issue, but rather their unfolding under dominating political economies
and metaphysical concepts that reduce their potentialities. In a sense this
seems true, but on the other hand, there are no such things as technolo-
gies “themselves.” All technologies are sociocultural assemblages and quite
often there are mixtures of potential politics in their design. The history of
the twentieth century shows that modern information and communica-
tion technologies emerge, are celebrated for their new temporalities, their
new ability to refocus our attention, and their new social possibilities, but
before too long they are remediated into reproducing the dominant poli-
tics and economies, and their liberating possibilities quickly begin to be
lost. The vast hopes for social movements that the Internet promised only
twenty years ago or less are quickly being lost to personal isolation, capital-
ist markets, and industry and government surveillance. The Internet has
brought a world of knowledge and learning to people who can access it that
was simply impossible to imagine even twenty-five years ago. But without
critique, including critique of the popular and professional rhetoric of the
digital age, this could be lost. Like Walter Benjamin’s notes on the Paris
arcades or passages, we are already beginning to look back at the shimmer-
ing artifact of digital culture that once promised the paradises of its age.
And this looking back and being disappointed comes increasingly quickly
in regard to the most recent hopes of digital culture these days.
152 Chapter 7

It is difficult to believe that in the midst of so many problems today

that critique is not needed. The Enlightenment critique may be specific
and often paradoxical in its own historical contexts, but critique as such is
common and necessary for any society or person that seeks meaning and
value in life. Without critique, the right of people and persons to invent
and reinvent their own lives and to make their own experiences disappears,
not only as a right, but also as the essence of being human. Critique is an
event that attempts to alter social and personal indexes and how they are
composed, accounted for, and valued.
The problem of critique, in the midst of the modern documentary epis-
teme and its modes of representation, extends not just to “the human”
but more importantly beyond this, it extends to all beings in their singu-
larity. The fundamental importance of the problem of being appears even
more strongly in the face of the historicism of what is popularly called
and assumed to be “the information age” and the “information society,”
because in such a modern conception of information the very notion of
critique is marginalized.
Critically viewed, what burns most clearly from the edges and fractures
of the modern documentary episteme are not documents, information,
and data and their modern values, but that which withdraws from these;
indeed, that which is beaten back by these appearances: the materiality of
beings and texts. Texts are what the great documentary institutions have
collected, whether they act as evidence or not. Their arrangement and orga-
nization were not meant as reductions of the texts, nor were all the texts
meant to be evidential of “facts.” Just like the singularity of persons and all
beings, these are to be valued not simply for the construction and preserva-
tion of a civilization, but beyond this, for their reading, and in this, their
reinvention and renewal of such. And for this reason both texts and beings
cannot be typed and stay the same. The type and the singular are different;
they cannot be dialectically collapsed into a single idea.
(And for this reason, this book has inverted the story of historical con-
sciousness in our day, not in order to show it as natural, but rather to show
it as real, by stressing its strongest forms, its sciences and their presences
throughout our lives, in other words, its “rationality.” However, what is
shown as real must be read, and so in this methodological inversion of ide-
ology its constituent forms, including its technologies, are given to reread-
ing and reinscription. There is nothing natural, or in this sense “real,” about
Conclusion 153

historical consciousness, other than its reality as the rational; but this can
be contested—however difficult that may be in word or deed—because it is
for us so rational, so much of our consciousness and being.)
Critically viewed, even in the moment of the strongest appearance of
a metaphysical concept in its concrete manifestations—that is, in its “sci-
ence” or “sciences,” its “factuality,” and its empirical “reasonableness”—
there remains the fragility of its entities and the logic and the devices for its
appearances. In the symptom of an historical over-determination—either
in a society or in an individual—there exists the pathology of its composi-
tion and appearance, and its presence and privileges, but also the fragments
of other promises.
In the mirror of such determinations—in the mirror of what are called
the “information age” and its “society,” of what I have called the “modern
documentary tradition”—there appears in its fractures and edges the singu-
larity of beings and their expressions. Not as predictable moments, nor as
types, nor even as functions of either habits or trends, but as radical expres-
sions of life that can change all these, reimagine them, and begin again.
These are the “remainders” of our modern sense of information, informing
us of our being. They don’t and won’t disappear no matter the violence
that they may suffer from the ideas, tropes, or evidence of representational
The historical form of the modern documentary tradition may continue
to socially advance, and yet each generation of such doesn’t advance purely,
but with the entanglements of what it tries to leave behind. This remainder
is what critique attempts to keep free from any single concept of being, and
which it attempts to liberate from such a concept to begin with.
What most informs us about our modern sense of “information” is what
gives rise to it and remains. Only from this can “information,” and with
it, all sorts of documents and the modern documentary tradition itself, be
seen as having living value or detracting from living value. We need to hear
what “information” says, what informs it, and what informs us otherwise.
What we take (in both a positive and a negative sense) from what we call
“information” today must not only be information, but even more impor-
tantly, something other, namely, understanding. And to do this, we must
begin to understand how we are indexically mediated as modern documen-
tary beings.


1. When I was an undergraduate in philosophy, a visiting lecturer once told us a

joke that there were two kinds of skeptics in this world: an East Coast skeptic and a
West Coast skeptic. They both see roughly the same thing, but the first dwells on it
and the second one forgets about it and goes surfing. Like all jokes, it deals with ste-
reotypes; people live in many differing situations on both coasts (for example, the
economic, social, and cultural distance between Palo Alto and East Palo Alto is quite
large). I must confess, however, that where I live, and so this book, is closer to the
“East Coast” in this joke.

Chapter 1

1. So, for example, we come to fulfill an information need in a library or other set-
ting by finding out what is available, and so, we arrive at the “real need” only
through the process of browsing, trying, and choosing. The library science literature
is filled with theories that suggest a patron’s “real need” is something hidden in his
or her mind or lost in the patron’s nervousness when confronted by information
institutions or professionals, but this is silly. In an uncertain environment, we dis-
cover what we need by investigating what that environment has to offer, and then
we accept something that seems right as being what we want or, retroactively, as
what we wanted in the first place.

2. “De tout temps la latinité et son héritage ont donné au mot document le sens
d’enseignement ou de preuve. Le dictionnaire de RICHELET, comme celui de LITTRÉ
en apportent deux témoignages français. Une bibliographe contemporaine soucieuse
de clarté a lancé cette brève définition: « Un document est une preuve à l’appui d’un
fait ».
Si l’on se réfère aux définitions « officielles » de l’Union Française des Organismes
de Documentation [2], on constate que le document est présenté ainsi: « toute base
de connaissance fixée matériellement et susceptible d’être utilisée pour consultation,
étude ou preuve ».
156 Notes

Cette définition a été parfois mise en échec par des linguistes ou par des philos-
ophes, épris comme il se doit de minutie et de logique. Grâce à leur analyze du con-
tenu de la notion, on a pu proposer ici une définition, la plus approchée qui soit à
l’heure actuelle, mais aussi la plus abstraite, et partant, la moins accessible: « tout
indice concret ou symbolique, conservé ou enregistré, aux fins de représenter, de
reconstituer ou de prouver un phénomène ou physique ou intellectuel ».
Une étoile est-elle un document ? Un galet roulé par un torrent est-il un docu-
ment ? Un animal vivant est-il un document ? Non. Mais sont des documents les
photographies et les catalogs d’étoiles, les pierres d’un musée de minéralogie, les
animaux catalogués et exposés dans un Zoo.
A notre époque de transmissions multipliées et accélérées, le moindre évène-
ment, ou scientifique ou politique, lorsqu’il a été porté à la connaissance du public,
s’alourdit aussitôt d’une « vêture de documents » (Raymond BAYER). Admirons la
fertilité documentaire d’un simple fait de départ: par exemple, une antilope d’une
espèce nouvelle a été rencontrée en Afrique par un explorateur qui a réussi à en cap-
turer un individu qu’il ramène en Europe pour notre Jardin des Plantes. Une infor-
mation de presse fait connaître l’évènement par des communiqués de journaux, de
radio, par les actualités cinématographiques. La découverte fait l’objet d’une com-
munication à l’Académie des Sciences. Un professeur du Muséum en fait état dans
son enseignement. L’animal vivant est mis en cage et catalogué (jardin zoologique).
Une fois mort il sera empaillé et conservé (au Muséum). Il est prêté à une Exposition.
Il passe en sonorisé au cinéma. Son cri est enregistré sur disque. La première monog-
raphie sert à établir partie d’un traité avec planches, puis une encyclopédie spéciale
(zoologique), puis une encyclopédie générale. Les ouvrages sont catalogués dans une
bibliothèque, après avoir été annoncés en librairie (catalogs d’éditeurs et Bibliogra-
phie de la France). Les documents sont recopiés (dessins, aquarelles, tableaux, stat-
ues, photos, films, microfilms), puis sélectionnés, analysés, décrits, traduits
(productions documentaires). Les documents se rapportant à cet évènement sont
l’objet d’un classement scientifique (faune) et d’un classement idéologique (classifi-
cation). Leur conservation enfin et leur utilization sont déterminées par des tech-
niques générales et par des méthodes valables pour l’ensemble des documents,
méthodes étudiées en associations nationales et en Congrès internationaux.
L’antilope cataloguée est un document initial et les autres documents sont des
documents seconds ou dérivés.”
(Many thanks to Laurent Martinet for posting the original of Suzanne Briet’s
Qu’est-ce que la documentation on the Internet; retrieved from:

Chapter 2

1. As I was finishing this book, a colleague in Scotland, Sachi Arafat, kindly made
me aware of “From the Philosophy of Information to the Philosophy of Information
Culture” (Briggle and Mitcham 2009), which ends on the need for more research on
the topic of friendship, as a special concern in the study of information culture.
Notes 157

Chapter 3

1. As one point, it is not clear that there is a distinct Cutter and Otlet tradition, at
least in regard to Otlet’s own works (it is notable that Balnaves and Willson’s (2011)
bibliography doesn’t directly reference Otlet’s works, but rather their work relies on
secondary sources). There is not room in this book to develop this point further
than to mention issues ranging from Otlet’s mélange of philosophical sources and
positions within and outside of documentation and librarianship to the fact of Otlet
and LaFontaine’s construction of the Universal Decimal Classification and other
tools for document retrieval. Still, Balnaves and Willson’s identification and discus-
sions of two LIS traditions are important, no matter what proper names they have
attached to them.

2. A more critical reading of the difference in these two traditions, and importantly,
their epistemological, ontological, and methodological consequences from an LIS
perspective can be found in Lai Ma’s doctoral dissertation from Indiana University,
Bloomington (Ma 2012).

3. However, see the Frohmann (1992) reading of ASK, to the contrary. I, too, in past
publications agreed with Frohmann’s perspective on Belkin’s ASK, but more recently
I have come to the conclusion that Belkin’s texts do not well enough support such a

4. The notion of “information” in LIS, however, remains contentious: see Jonathan

Furner (2004) for his suggestion that the term isn’t needed in information science to
account for what it studies and what it does in professional practice. See also, for
example, the work of Niels Windfeld Lund who has represented the neo-documen-
talist reaction to the information perspective in LIS.

Chapter 4

1. The article by Bernard Rieder (2012) is an extremely well-researched, concise arti-

cle that examines the historical and the technical convergence of sociometrics, cita-
tion indexing and analysis, and network analysis in the sociotechnical functions of
Google’s PageRank algorithm.

2. Briet argued that documentation serves science, “like the dog on the hunt—
totally before [the researcher], guided, guiding” (Briet 1954).

3. Documentary space resembles here the indexical relations of Judeo-Christian

religious literary prefigurations (between the old and new testaments; see Auerbach
1957) and of Christian medieval iconography, in the latter case with flattened out
spaces of representation and cosmologies of indexical references (Walsh 2012) cut-
ting across and overlapping different temporal horizons, creating apocalyptic senses
of returned identity in the future and of everlasting life for the dead. Perhaps this is
158 Notes

also where so much messianic hope and faith with the Internet and social networks
and their visualizations lie, as well. Namely, a theological faith that beneath the
mathematics of indexical mapping and complex network analyses there might be at
least local, if not universal, truths about reality. And perhaps this is the reason why
so many explanations and prognoses of such technologies resemble literary stories
and why nodal network diagrams often resemble in their design medieval icono-
graphic pictures of the saints.

4. The documentary universe, thus, may be taken as an allegory of life on earth. An

allegory that has been reduced to realism by its insertion—as a constant explanatory
and communicative presence—into our lives, like Christian iconography and tales
were in medieval Europe.

5. From a skeptical perspective, over time modern technologies often seem to come
to express the pathologies that lead them to appear in the first place. The Internet
closes distances by means of computer mediation that in some ways increase our
personal distance from one another. Airplanes that were built to narrow travel time
end up requiring long waiting, boarding, and takeoff times, as their technologies of
transportation are intricate, complex, and potentially dangerous, as well as quick. It
could be proposed that psychotechnical pathologies are enfolded into modern tech-
nologies in their very design.

Chapter 5

1. But, we should also note that some language games involve, precisely, the break-
ing down of normative scripts—for example, avant-garde art activities in the twenti-
eth century with their traditions of “shock” and defamiliarization—through a
repertoire of techniques.

Chapter 6

1. See, among many other authors, the later works of Antonio Negri and, more gen-
erally, the Italian debate on “immaterial labor” (an English-language “sampler” of
the Italian radical thought can be found in Virno and Hardt 1996). For more con-
temporary works, see among others, the many thoughtful works by Christian Fuchs.

2. As Ian Steadman, in a recent Wired (UK) article put it: “The big data approach to
intelligence gathering allows an analyst to get the full resolution on worldwide
affairs. Nothing is lost from looking too closely at one particular section of data;
nothing is lost from trying to get too wide a perspective on a situation that the fine
detail is lost. The algorithms find the patterns and the hypothesis follows from the
data. The analyst doesn't even have to bother proposing a hypothesis any more. Her
role switches from proactive to reactive, with the algorithms doing the contextual
work. … For science, it makes sense to see big data as a revolution. Algorithms will
Notes 159

spot patterns and generate theories, so there's a decreasing need to worry about
inventing a hypothesis first and then testing it with a sample of data. … In the same
way that the internal combustion engine spelled the end of the horse as a working
animal, big data could be the tool to render most of academic disciplines redundant
if it proves better at building better narratives of human society” (Steadman 2013).

3. As Chris Anderson, writing for Wired in 2008, explained:

This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool
that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to
sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they
do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With
enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.
The big target here isn't advertising, though. It's science. The scientific method is built
around testable hypotheses. These models, for the most part, are systems visualized in the minds
of scientists. The models are then tested, and experiments confirm or falsify theoretical models
of how the world works. This is the way science has worked for hundreds of years.
Scientists are trained to recognize that correlation is not causation, that no conclusions
should be drawn simply on the basis of correlation between X and Y (it could just be a coinci-
dence). Instead, you must understand the underlying mechanisms that connect the two. Once
you have a model, you can connect the data sets with confidence. Data without a model is just
But faced with massive data, this approach to science—hypothesize, model, test—is becom-
ing obsolete. (Anderson 2008)

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112 Frohmann, Bernd, 38, 45
Aufhebung (gathering up, uplifting, sub-
limation), 3, 11, 57, 60, 83 Governance, ix, 12, 21, 30, 40, 68, 86,
122, 128, 132–136, 153
Bowker, Geoffrey, 6, 26, 28, 44
Briet, Suzanne, x, xiii, 1, 2, 7–10, 13, 19, Harré, Rom, 10, 55–56, 112
26, 34, 29–40, 43, 48, 59, 60, 62–63, Hayles, N. Katherine, 12, 139–145
81, 83, 89, 143, 149, 151, 155–157 Heidegger, Martin, 11, 15–19, 21–25, 28,
Buckland, Michael K., 5, 11, 42–48 30–33, 65, 73, 84, 91, 100, 102, 119,
120, 148, 150
Capitalism, 76, 102, 123–127, 133, 150
Citation indexing, 35–61 Immaterial labor, 126–127
Classification, 4, 8, 18, 29, 35–41 Indice, 1, 7–10, 33, 36, 156
Competition, 61, 81, 125, 133, 147 Information literacy, 138–140
Consciousness, 4, 65, 68, 90, 106–109, Interpellation, 75–87, 131
120, 152–153 Interpolation, 11, 75, 87
Content, 17, 28–29, 38–39, 121,
141–142 Jentsch, Ernst (“On the Uncanny”),
Critique, ix–x, 10, 12–13, 21–25, 33, 67, 98–101
75, 84, 98, 108, 119, 122, 138, 140,
142–153 Lacan, Jacques, 106–108, 120
Cutter, Charles Ammi, 36–41 Link-analysis algorithms, 46, 59, 72

Dialectic, x, 3–4, 33, 47, 55, 57, 60, Metadata, 39, 47, 52–53, 57–61, 144
62–63, 65, 67–72, 78–84, 90–92, 96, Mitsein (being-with), 21, 22, 31, 65, 79,
104–108, 114, 124–125, 129–130, 92, 103–104, 150
152 Modeling, 128, 133
Money, 123–129
Enlightenment, ix, 122, 125, 132, 142, Moods, 21, 31–32, 34, 92, 115, 148
145–146, 152 Mori, Masahiro, 92, 97
170 Index

Neoliberalism, 4, 9, 26, 48–49, 54–68,

82–83, 123–144

Parametric, 12, 41, 134–137

Paro (robotic seal), 102–103, 118, 121
Part-objects, 100, 103, 118, 120–121
Post-coordinate indexing, 27, 29, 35,
41, 45–46, 59–60
Pre-coordinate indexing, 27, 29, 35, 39,
41, 45, 46, 63
Psychotechnical pathologies, 79

Relevancy, 46, 81, 84, 138

Ronell, Avital, 79, 81

Self (and “person”; Rom Harré), 55, 56,

Self-consciousness (of the subject), 65,
68, 106
Skimming, 18, 138–147
Social big data, 31, 61, 123–127
Social positioning theory, 2, 9, 10, 55,
63, 71–75, 84–85, 108, 133–134
Spirit, 64, 67–69, 76, 123–124, 134
Style, 71–75, 84–86, 112

Taste, 71–75, 84–86, 135, 144, 146

Uncanny valley, 92–103, 118–119

Unheimlich (unhome-like), 98, 100

Will to power, 33, 90